Giving Iain Banks another chance

Time for a post about reading, after all these writing ones.

I hated The Wasp Factory. I mean, really hated it. So much so that I never even finished the book. I think I got up to the last or second last chapter and realised I was having a properly horrible time.

But I know Banks is well renowned as a fantastic writer. And he’s also written a lot of sci-fi.

So I decided to give him another chance with one of his Culture novels: The Player of Games. My first thoughts were not very positive: the beginning, as with most ‘hard’ sci-fi (I hate that term though), is full of obscure invented words and concepts that you have to try and decipher, or ignore. It seemed very much like these things were there just for show – I’ve created this new world, so I can put whatever I want into it. Of course any alien world is going to be very different from ours, but it was just uncomfortable as a reader.

That first part of the book was not particularly enthralling. It did get a lot better once Gurgeh gets on the voyage to the Empire; there was finally a purpose to the story. Descriptions of the different world, and the games he plays, are a lot more interesting and I read the second half of the book pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the ending much either.

It feels like something exciting and unexpected is going to happen – it does, but it’s very difficult to tell what’s actually happening, or why. As the book gets closer to the end, I liked the main character less and less. Not being allowed to see much of his thought process, particularly about some of the most important things he has found out, was frustrating. By the time of the final battle, I didn’t even care if he was going to die.

The twist was also unfulfilling.

It’s not great news, as second chances go. I liked some of the ideas enough, and the writing, to think I might try another Culture novel. But only ‘might’.