Cheeseburger Gothic

Gone Girl

Posted May 9, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

There's been some confusion about the next bookclub title when I mentioned in a thread we'd be doing Chasm City. We will, but after Gone Girl. However, I have a screenplay due tomorrow, and many scenes yet to write. I've also just found out my Friday afternoon is kaput. Taken over by school cross country. There is zero chance of me getting to my review essay before tomorrow evening.

So, next Friday for Gone Girl. Then Chasm City. I'm thinking Joe Abercrombie after that, but haven't decided which one yet.

9 Responses to ‘Gone Girl’

Surtac ducks in to say...

Posted May 9, 2013

Oh good. I haven't written my review yet either. :)

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted May 9, 2013

Just checking, reviewing previous post on this issue, the side list of posts is really handy. yep there it is.

"Really, having to change the date for a Cheeseburger book club. mmm suprising"

still useful.

oh and nice try putting up another post immediately to distract.

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JG swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 9, 2013

Great. I'm yet to finish reading Gone Girl.

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damian mumbles...

Posted May 9, 2013

The Kindle edition had a bunch of "book group questions" in the back. I usually studiously ignore that kind of thing, but maybe it's suitable for this kind of adwencha.

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Blarkon asserts...

Posted May 9, 2013

You can do the book group questions as long as you bring cake.

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damian has opinions thus...

Posted May 9, 2013

I won't be able to do Friday the 17th, actually, he says, noting a longstanding prior commitment. But there should be cake. Grain-free chocolate mud cake.

Bunyip would have you know...

Posted May 9, 2013

The grain will be in a liquid form, I presume...

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damian mumbles...

Posted May 10, 2013

Now, now. One should never mix the grain and the grape. Unless you really know what you're doing. And even then, it's hubris.

Not that there's anything wrong with hubris. All great tragedies start with it in some form...

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Suze asserts...

Posted May 12, 2013

Awesome! I'll be well and truly finished and may even have written an actual proper considered and suitably thinky review for a change. Maybe.

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Respond to 'Gone Girl'

Cheeseburger Bookclub, 10 May, Gone Girl

Posted April 29, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

Just a reminder that the next bookclub will kick off at 7.30pm eastern, on 10 May. (Yeah, it should be this Friday but I'll be at a school function til late).

BYO drinky and thinky as always.

19 Responses to ‘Cheeseburger Bookclub, 10 May, Gone Girl’

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted April 29, 2013

Really, having to change the date for a Cheeseburger book club. mmm suprising.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

I think what you meant to write was: 'JB gets trapped in yet another bottomless shaft in the commitment mines of Planet Parenthood. Mmm, surprising'.

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

Yes, sorry that's what I meant.

My apologies.

Murphy ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

When you are in The Land of the Mad Cab Driver, everyone can hear you scream.

Thing is, nobody gives a fuck.

Just drive.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Murphy would have you know...

Posted April 29, 2013

Shit, need to get this book.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

Have we got the next book selected yet, or should we also consider suggestions to propose at the next bookclub?

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Murphy asserts...

Posted April 29, 2013

I believe Orin was pushing for an Alastair Reynolds offering. If we do that then I recommend either Chasm City or The Prefect, both are good stand alone novels which provide a nice entry into the Revelation Space Universe.

If we want something military then I'd recommend either The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien or Shiloh by Shelby Foote.

If we want something that isn't military at all then The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is a great read. She came to KCMO a few years back for a presentation at the Central Branch of the Public Library which was worth the trip.

Having said all of that, I wouldn't mind reading something which hails from Australia, a classic of some type (other than Felafel, which I've already read).

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 29, 2013

Those look good Murph, always love Alastair Reynold's work, perhaps enough to read his soon to be penned/typed Dr Who tale 'Harvest of Time'.

I've read Tim O'Brien's 'If I should die in a combat zone' and happy to read more of his stuff.

I have heard nothing of Sandra Cisneros.

Once you have read Birmo that's pretty much the best of Australian contemporary literature covered. You'd need to go back a few decades perhaps Patrick White's Voss or Tree of Man. ( I am of course kidding about those books, only to be used in case of life-threatening insomnia that doesn't respond to hard drugs).

I am trying to decide if I want to read Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, its post-apocalyptic but some of the reviews mention 'lyrical', 'poetic' and 'transformative' shudder, but its post apocalyptic and has a dog so its tempting, but I've been burned before. Yes I am looking at you 'Zone One' by Colson Whitehead.

Lulu ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

Barnesm, I've always liked Peter Temple's Jack Irish books (maybe that's specifically a Melbourne thing), but they're probably not thinky enough for a book club.

His "Truth" on the other hand was *too* thinky for me.

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w from brisbane would have you know...

Posted April 29, 2013

Michael Crichton's 'Prey' is terrific fun. Nanobots using swarm intelligence. A ripping read. An absolute page turner. Nobody does a chase scene better than Crichton.

I gave it to 2 middle-aged science nerd friends. Both had said they had never read a novel since leaving school.
'Why would I read a novel? It is not true.'

Both really liked it. One said, "I found myself at 11pm lying on the couch reading this book. I have never done that before in my life."
Both said, they found the science very interesting.

Even better, I look at reader reviews and some people hate it. Perfect!
It is not a long book.

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pitpat mutters...

Posted April 29, 2013

Thanks for the heads up. Fortunately I have a drilling program starting on the weekend. Filled with dust noise and mud and fair degree of boredom this will be the perfect antidote.

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Surtac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 29, 2013

I had half a memory that JB had already picked the next book but for the life of me I don't recall what it might have been.

No matter. I'll be happy with whatever. He hasn't picked a dud yet.

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MickH ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

I'm 80% of the way through this book.

holy shit!

I mean...Holy shit!

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JG ducks in to say...

Posted April 29, 2013

Great. I'm glad it's on the 10th and not this Friday. I'm only a fifth of the way through Gone Girl. Better get cracking.

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 29, 2013

Pretty sure that we had decided on Chasm City - especially as I understand it was Reynolds that put Murph onto Birmo in the first place.

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BigWillieStyle mutters...

Posted April 30, 2013

I'm new to C-Goth. Is this bookclub virtual or physical?

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted April 30, 2013

It's virtual, Big Willie. We read the book, natch, then meet up here on the evening of the club. I write a longish review essay which gets published at 7.30pm, and everyone kicks in. Most of the action is on Friday evening, but there's plenty who lob in over the weekend with their 2 cents.

There is also drinking.

BigWillieStyle ducks in to say...

Posted April 30, 2013

Okay, ta. Is the Marieke role available? I can adorn my hair with a pretty flower, slip into a hipster dress, and get myself sorted with an inner-city tattoo if need be.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted April 30, 2013

Havoc normally does that part, but knock yourself out.

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Respond to 'Cheeseburger Bookclub, 10 May, Gone Girl'

The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks

Posted April 12, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

I wont won't write my usual long review essay for The Player of Games, because as I sit, typing this, waiting for my delivery pizza to arrive (yes, wife and children are away) it grows late and dark and time is short. I am near the end of the book, and want to finish before we start.

So let me start by thanking Mick, I think, for pestering me to schedule this title. I know others had suggested it before, but the combination of Mick's persistence and the sad news from Banks himself recently was enough to find us here tonight. I think I have enjoyed this Culture story as much as any I've read. And I was surprised to discover I hadn't actually read it many years ago as I had thought.

I came to it new and it was with some excitement that I realised I was in for an unexpected treat, and of course some sadness that this will be the last time I get to experience that free falling sensation of dropping rapidly and deeply into Banks' imagined universe anew.

It's not unusual for us to see the Culture through eyes of outsiders. The author often employs the outside view to render the Culture in starker terms than would be possible with an insider telling a story from the inside. In Games, we are also 'outside', but this time removed from the Culture by distance, rather than by point of view. (Although, arguably, as Gurgeh becomes ever more deeply enmeshed within the Empire of Azad, his PoV becomes less that of a fully civilized Culture citzen and more of someone caught between cultures.)

Then again, when we meet Gurgeh he is already drifting away from the Culture.

"...at the moment, Chamlis… Sometimes I start to think I'm repeating myself, that even new games are just old ones in disguise, and that nothing is worth playing for anyway."
"Gurgeh," Chamlis said matter-of-factly, and did something it rarrely did, actually settling physically into the couch, letting it take its weight. "Settle up; are we talking about games, all life?"
Gurgeh put his dark-curled head back and laughed.
"Games," Chamlis went on, "have been your life. If they're starting to pall, I understand you might not be so happy with anything else."

"Maybe I'm just disillusioned with games," Gurgeh said, turning a card game piece over in his hands. "I used to think that context didn't matter; a good game was a good game and there was a purity about manipulating rules that translated perfectly from society to society… But now I wonder."

We know of course, because Banks has told us, that Gurgeh is a celebrated figure within the Culture precisely because he is a player of games. But if you look at the long arc of the Culture series you can see that gameplay and a sort of childlike innocence is characteristic of the entire civilization. To turn his back on the playing of games is to turn his back on the Culture.
But narratively, that's exactly what Banks has in mind. He forces Gurgeh to run from what he knows when he sets up the blackmail by the rogue drone Mawhrin-Skel. And by removing the narrator from the culture, and depositing him into an almost entirely antithetical society, we are allowed to reflect on the civilization Banks has invented.
I think this is one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. The Culture is an idealized apotheosis of Western civilization, but in The Player of Games we get to see Banks reflecting on that same civilization through a glass, much more darkly. From the moment Gurgeh (whom my dictation software winningly wants to render as 'go gay') arrives in the Empire, Banks wastes no opportunity to remind us how much it should remind us of the worst of ourselves. This reaches the most sickening depths during Gurgeh's secret nighttime visits to the lower levels of the city with Flere-Imsaho, where he is exposed to the corruption and depravity that lies behind the great game. But we can see it as soon as he sets foot within the Empire.

"He also had an odd feeling that they were laughing at him, somewhere behind their faces. Apart from the obvious physical differences, the Azadians all seemed very compact and hard and determined compared to Culture people; more energetic and even – if he was going to be critical – neurotic. The apices were, anyway. From the little he saw of the males, they seemed somehow dullar, less fraught and more stolid as well as being physically bulkier, while the females appear to be quieter – somehow deeper – and more delicate looking."

Banks often uses the Culture to show us how good we could be, but in this book he's also showing us the worst of ourselves.
I loved it.
I both read and listened to Games, having purchased it as an e-book and an audiobook. It's the first time I've ever listened to a Culture novel, having read all of the previous ones, mostly in paperback. I said before the part of the reason I enjoyed this work so much was because it felt like the last time I would get to visit the Culture for the first time. But actually, that's wrong. Listening to the Audible version of Player of Games felt like a very different experience to reading a Banks novel. A deeper, more immersive experience. It has convinced me to go back and purchase the entire series in audiobook form. If this is a form of 'reading' you enjoy, I can't recommend it highly enough for these novels.

I have a few other points I want to make, but I will do so in the comments as the issues come up. I'm now going to finish the last couple of pages, along with my pizza. For tonight's book club I am drinking James Squires' The Chancer, with a chaser of Highland Park.

139 Responses to ‘The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks’

drej asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah, another awsm Culture novel.

Loved the overall irony inherent in the premise, Gurgeh being the ultimate "player" in the galaxy, yet so easily "played" himself, by the machinations of the Minds behind the Culture.

Great writing too regarding the ships and especially in this one, the drones, so obviously artificial and powerful, yet so human in many respects.

Drinking Gage Roads Atomic Pale Ales.

JG asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Hmmm, I don't know what happened then. Just copied and pasted from Word.

I'll try again. Excuse if all the coding appears again. Something up with CBG tonight, JB.

Joanna :)

Five out of five stars for The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, and thanks to whoever suggested we read it. I absolutely loved it. I haven’t read any of his work before.

I finished The Player of Games in two days; a record for me. I usually take a few weeks to read a book. This book was one I didn’t want to put down. It was light, readable yet eloquent. Iain M Banks has a wonderful approachable writing style, so I found it easy to get through, despite not having read much science fiction before, apart from books with sci-fi elements by JB and Stephen King.

The narrator’s introduction to each section was rather eerie—not knowing what had happened to Jurnau Gurgeh until the end. I considered the narrator unreliable, and this turned out to be true when I discovered his identity at the end. I never saw the blackmail by the drone Mawhrin-Skel coming, so his role as an unreliable narrator (as in, the reader cannot trust him) was perfect.

Iain M Banks has a wonderful capacity with language and I loved his touches of humour (eg the drunk professor) and extraordinary imagination. I guess I’m excited about reading more science fiction now because of the outrageous ideas in the genre. What an imagination! And it was exciting. It wasn’t quite a thriller, but it was good enough.

The graphic details of the dark underbelly of the Empire of Azad were horrific. The more I read, the more I feared that the narrator would somehow turn out to be the reason for Gurgeh’s doom. The dichotomy between the elite’s superior view of Contact and the harsh reality of its brutality were chilling, reminding me of dictatorial regimes like Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Banks makes sure there is plenty of conflict in the book, as all stories must have. I loved all the deception, tension, and uncertainty.

Going back to imagination. There are so many memorable examples: the exo-skeleton taking control, the three sexes on Azad, cinderbuds, Uhnychral’s ability to breathe through his penis (although that didn’t help him in the end), the various creatures and technologies of both the Culture and the Contact, the extreme price of the games (eg castration of the loser).

I liked the protagonist, Gurgeh. He was clever, cautious, and not scared to speak his mind. I laughed at his irritation with his minder drone Flere-Imsaho. Bit of a revelation at the end that it was not a library drone after all; more an ASIO-like drone—a JBond drone.

I found Yay annoying and didn’t think it was necessary to include her story. In fact all the females in Banks’s book were undeveloped, but I guess there was no need to fully flesh them out, given they were props to Gurgeh’s story. Still, it would have been good if Banks had included a stronger female character.

The emperor, Nicosar, was beautifully portrayed: a man of intelligence and skill who in the end, made the game real: playing to the death. His ideals, his dedication to all the Contact stood for, was more important to him than the fate of those around him. The game, Azar, was life.

I liked the way the book was divided up in to four sections. Each section was divided into short readable sub sections, something I appreciated. I don’t like too many pages to each reading sub section in a book. The short sub sections (separated by extra space between each) made it easy to pick up and put the book down as I took breaks, went out, and came back to the book.

The Player of Games is brilliant. Read the book if you haven’t already.

Joanna G

Bunyip puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah. I found his initial naivity regarding the political context galling. But as he adapted to the lack of personal security that underlay existence in the Empire, and once he had his Road to Damascus moment, courtesy of Flere-Imsaho, he did become interesting. I must admit, I did not see where he was going. In the later stages of the book I kept on thinking "What is the end game here?"

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yay is interesting because she gives us an early indication that as good a game player as Gurgeh might be, he's not above being played others, which turns into a lietmotiv of his entire passage thru this story.

Bunyip would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah. Yay's playing of Gurgeh, and her later assumption of his role as a respected academic was, to say the least, bemusing.

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JG mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

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Five out of five stars for The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, and thanks to whoever suggested we read it. I absolutely loved it. I haven’t read any of his work before.

I finished The Player of Games in two days; a record for me. I usually take a few weeks to read a book. This book was one I didn’t want to put down. It was light, readable yet eloquent. Iain M Banks has a wonderful approachable writing style, so I found it easy to get through, despite not having read much science fiction before, apart from books with sci-fi elements by JB and Stephen King.

The narrator’s introduction to each section was rather eerie—not knowing what had happened to Jurnau Gurgeh until the end. I considered the narrator unreliable, and this turned out to be true when I discovered his identity at the end. I never saw the blackmail by the drone Mawhrin-Skel coming, so his role as an unreliable narrator (as in, the reader cannot trust him) was perfect.

Iain M Banks has a wonderful capacity with language and I loved his touches of humour (eg the drunk professor) and extraordinary imagination. I guess I’m excited about reading more science fiction now because of the outrageous ideas in the genre. What an imagination! And it was exciting. It wasn’t quite a thriller, but it was good enough.

The graphic details of the dark underbelly of the Empire of Azad were horrific. The more I read, the more I feared that the narrator would somehow turn out to be the reason for Gurgeh’s doom. The dichotomy between the elite’s superior view of Contact and the harsh reality of its brutality were chilling, reminding me of dictatorial regimes like Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Banks makes sure there is plenty of conflict in the book, as all stories must have. I loved all the deception, tension, and uncertainty.

Going back to imagination. There are so many memorable examples: the exo-skeleton taking control, the three sexes on Azad, cinderbuds, Uhnychral’s ability to breathe through his penis (although that didn’t help him in the end), the various creatures and technologies of both the Culture and the Contact, the extreme price of the games (eg castration of the loser).

I liked the protagonist, Gurgeh. He was clever, cautious, and not scared to speak his mind. I laughed at his irritation with his minder drone Flere-Imsaho. Bit of a revelation at the end that it was not a library drone after all; more an ASIO-like drone—a JBond drone.

I found Yay annoying and didn’t think it was necessary to include her story. In fact all the females in Banks’s book were undeveloped, but I guess there was no need to fully flesh them out, given they were props to Gurgeh’s story. Still, it would have been good if Banks had included a stronger female character.

The emperor, Nicosar, was beautifully portrayed: a man of intelligence and skill who in the end, made the game real: playing to the death. His ideals, his dedication to all the Contact stood for, was more important to him than the fate of those around him. The game, Azar, was life.

I liked the way the book was divided up in to four sections. Each section was divided into short readable sub sections, something I appreciated. I don’t like too many pages to each reading sub section in a book. The short sub sections (separated by extra space between each) made it easy to pick up and put the book down as I took breaks, went out, and came back to the book.

The Player of Games is brilliant. Read the book if you haven’t already.

Joanna G

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

One of the things I love about the Culture novels and I will go into more detail about PoG later at I digest everyone elses thoughts is that Mr Bank's culture can be viewed as a response to a comment by George Orwells

AN argument that Socialists ought to be prepared to meet, since it is brought up constantly both by Christian apologists and by neo-pessimists such as James Burnham, is the alleged immutability of ‘human nature’. Socialists are accused—I think without justification—of assuming that Man is perfectible, and it is then pointed out that human history is in fact one long tale of greed, robbery and oppression. Man, it is said, will always try to get the better of his neighbour, he will always hog as much property as possible for himself and his family. Man is of his nature sinful, and cannot be made virtuous by Act of Parliament. Therefore, though economic exploitation can be controlled to some extent, the classless society is for ever impossible.

The proper answer, it seems to me, is that this argument belongs to the Stone Age. It presupposes that material goods will always be desperately scarce. The power hunger of human beings does indeed present a serious problem, but there is no reason for thinking that the greed for mere wealth is a permanent human characteristic. We are selfish in economic matters because we all live in terror of poverty. But when a commodity is not scarce, no one tries to grab more than his fair share of it. No one tries to make a corner in air, for instance. The millionaire as well as the beggar is content with just so much air as he can breathe. Or, again, water. In this country we are not troubled by lack of water. If anything we have too much of it, especially on Bank Holidays. As a result water hardly enters into our consciousness. Yet in dried-up countries like North Africa, what jealousies, what hatreds, what appalling crimes the lack of water can cause! So also with any other kind of goods. If they were made plentiful, as they so easily might be, there is no reason to think that the supposed acquisitive instincts of the human being could not be bred out in a couple of generations. And after all, if human nature never changes, why is it that we not only don’t practise cannibalism any longer, but don’t even want to?

George Orwell Tribune 21 July 1944

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Interesting point about cornering the market in air, which if I recall correctly, was a plot point in 'We can remember that for you wholesale'.

Guru Bob asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Also a Ben Elton book as well if I recall correctly...

Matthew K reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Interesting you bring this up Barnes. Banks is, as I'm sure you know, left of centre like many a Scot. Nevertheless in the fantasy form of The Culture he makes what I assume is a very astute tacit comment/criticism of real life socialism on Earth.

Yes, The Culture is a post scarcity society with unlimited resources as unlimited as water is to us now (In the UK). More so in fact, but with many, if not all, left regimes, the greater the resources they have the greater the incompetence and waste they display.

To solve the problem of infinite human hubris, clumsiness and greed Banks posits infinitely wise and infinitely disinterested rulers as well as never ending mass and energy thus solving at a stroke socialism's inbuilt design flaw.

(This is addressed more in the short story State Of The Art but I don't have it handy right now. I'd always hoped Banks would take The Culture back to Earth. Well that will never happen now.)

Left thought does indeed seem dependant on an unrealistic view of human nature that is doomed to be constantly disappointed. We are at base African plains apes, to admit that is to free ourselves.

I believe that Socialism is unaware of this because of it's because of it's 19th C origins and romantic influences and it reflexively included the Judaeo-Christian assumption that humans are somehow separate from the rest of life on Earth.

The big reason someone hasn't tried to corner the market in air is because it is impractical to store it in any quantity.

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Is the "solving at a stroke socialism's inbuilt design flaw" a reference to the rules, becuase I think the socialists had no problem with rulers, it was the anarchists that wanted a society without leaders.

Matthew K mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

To solve the problem of infinite human hubris, clumsiness and greed Banks posits infinitely wise and infinitely disinterested rulers. True socialism needs god like rulers which it spectacularly has not had on Earth thus far. The Culture allows us to indulge in a fantasy where it has just that plus the infinite resources that it also needs.

damian mumbles...

Posted April 13, 2013

I agree with Orwell on this point, the argument that you can't have a utopian society because humanity is not "perfecteable" belongs in the stone age. At the very least - it is the strong position that things like jealosy and greed not only cannot now be overcome, but fundamentally can never be overcome. It's reasonable that one can take this position, but it is not reasonable to argue as though it is unquestionably true. To do so is ideology, indeed could be an ideal example of the sort of thing we mean when we refer to something as ideology. Rejecting it (because it is unproved and unprovable) is a rational position based on onus (because with any strong position, the onus is on the poser).

But I agree the relative omnipotence of the Minds seems to render the question moot for at least the human and human-like inhabitants of the Culture. We see a little of how the Culture deals with misfit, hermit and disfunctional people in Excession, but also to an extent the more interesting question as to how it deals with misbehaving Minds.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

Until I figured out what Mawhrin-Skel was actually up to, I did wonder whether we'd get to see what the Culture, or SC, did with a 'misbehaving' drone.

MickH swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

'I agree with Orwell on this point, the argument that you can't have a utopian society because humanity is not "perfecteable" belongs in the stone age."

I disagree. We are who we are, and the seven deadly sins will prevail.

pitpat reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

if the seven deadly sins are either not sins or unachievable (pretty much impossible to be murdered in the culture)why not go for "perfectibility"

Great thread BTW .great tonic for a shitty weekend, excuse the language

Matthew K ducks in to say...

Posted April 14, 2013

It is reasonable to argue as though it is unquestionably true that we are violent animals. It is reasonable to argue that left to her own devises my dog will shit in the house, I acknowledge this and take steps to deal with it through training. The possibility of early morning surprises will always be there, I have merely minimised it. She's a dog. I'm an ape. That's not an ideology, not a theory, its plain fact.

By acknowledging the world as it is and people as they are then we can alter them for the better. We'll never be perfect though, that's science fiction.

I like science fiction, I'm a big fan but I don't confuse it with reality.

Guru Bob would have you know...

Posted April 14, 2013

The Culture has a place for violent people (as well as minds and drones) it is called Special Circumstances...

damian asserts...

Posted April 14, 2013

See I don't think that is unquestionable at all. I think the stuff you regard as "human nature" is learned. So it's not reasonable to procede as though it is unquestionable at all -- it's one of the most questionable positions you can examine in terms of the human condition.

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 15, 2013

I can't find the exact line, but there is a great one in this book about 'human nature' being used to wave away all sorts of inhuman nastiness.

Matthew K mutters...

Posted April 16, 2013

As so often comes down to nature v nurture in the end.

Nevertheless I persist that all succesful animals have some instincts and are part of the secret of our success. It is undeniable - otherwise we'd have a lot less need for police and armed forces.

Anthony Burgess' point in A Clockwork Orange is similar (as we're in a Sci Fi discussion).

Not to say the effects can't be largely ameliorated by nurture too but they're always going to be there.

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Surtac reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

I'm trying to copy from a word document too and it's failing big time. Will try from straight text.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

I am very dissapointed in the Glenlivet I chose for my evenings libations, "supremely elegantwhisky of rewarding and subtle complexity. Smoke, clover honey " my muscular right buttcheek. I have made more sutble distillations in the lab using fermented plums.

Did the rules fo Azad remind anyone else of Clavinball from Calvin and Hobbs?

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Surtac mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

I don’t consider myself a gamer.
I mean, I’ve always played computer games on and off – Choplifter and Falcons on an Apple ][ aeons ago, a text only moon landing simulator on a school PDP-8, and various games on the PCs I’ve built over the years: Castle Wolfenstein, Descent, the early Doom versions, Mah Jong and so on were my favourites. But I never made the move towards or ever actively embraced gaming consoles such as thePlaystations, the Nintendos, the xBoxes, the Wii’s or what-have-you when that sort of specialised technology appeared. In fact it’s only recently that I’ve allowed one into the house – a now obsolete Wii as it happens – for the girls to use. I certainly don’t plan to use it myself.
But there is one game I can lose myself in for hours at a time. That game is Civilization II. There is something almost hypnotic about sitting there late at night with the rest of the household asleep,watching other competitive civ units moving on the map and manipulating your own to react or to interdict as necessary and to further your own strategic goals. Indeed, many times I’ve woken still in the chair after midnight having dozed off thinking ‘just one more turn’ to see the last post-turnautosave was an hour previous.I’d stopped playing a few years back when I got a new laptop with 64 bit Win 7 and it would install but not run. I’ve started playing it again recently because another Civ fanatic (and I use the term advisedly) wrote a patch and put it online. So Civ II runs again at Chateau Dysfunction and your humble surface tactician can now waste more hours exploring new worlds and trashing aggressor civilisations when they attack (as they invariably do).
Why is this relevant? Because Banks famously missed a publisher deadline and turned in a novel late(2008’s Matter) because he had got distracted and done no work for three months … he spent the time playing Civilization(though I don’t know which version). Banks is a player of games, and he knows the subject. Computer games also feature prominently in a couple of his literary titles – Complicity and A Steep Approach ToGarbadale.
Anyhow, more about Civilization later.(Yes, really.)
The Player of Games dates from 1988, and is the second book to appear in Banks’ Culture sequence.
It has been a long time since I first read it, and in some ways this re-read was almost like reading it for the first time. It seemed so fresh, and coming back and savouring it slowly this time around has allowed me to actually notice how much detailed information it gives us about the nature and practices of the society of the Culture. We are given the rationale for the existence of Contact, and specifically for Special Circumstances. It’s made clear that SC are the fixers for the Minds that ‘run’ the Culture: the ones called in when Contact can’t fit the next problem to their usual solution templates.
(This re-read has also convinced me that The Player of Games is probably the best starting point for someone otherwise unfamiliar with the series.)
Right from the beginning, we are living in the Culture. Jurgen Marat Gurgeh, our jaded master gamer* of a protagonist, is one of the Culture’s best games players and games theorists, but he’s getting a bit bored, a bit restless. He is, as suggested at one point, a hero archetype yearning for an Age of Heroes to live in. And he’s a bit of a throwback – a primitive type who hasn’t done the usual Culture thing of playing with gender transition or sexual orientation at all in his relatively young life so far. We learn that the Culture values the individual mind above the body – society is optimised to facilitate excellence in thinking and creativity. Gurgeh is a master of his field, driven to be the best, with no capability of toning it down and without the patience to teach others. His friends know he’s unhappy and try to do something about it – putting him in touch with Contact with the thought that one of the Minds might suggest something to reinvigorate him.
What happens then is that Gurgeh is manipulated into helping SC. He is sent off on a two year journey to the next galaxy to play a game, a fiendishly complex game that is itself the means and rationale for existence that holds the militaristic Empire of Azad together.
In showing us the protagonistGurgeh’s struggle with the empire and the game of Azad, we also gain an appreciation of the ethos and philosophy of the Culture, as Banks compares and contrasts it with the (evil?) empire.“Strength in depth; redundancy; over-design. You know the Culture’s philosophy”, a drone reminds Gurgeh late in the book.
And then there are the Premises – the ‘philosophy’ that each Player in the great empire games must furnish to the adjudicators to describe their style and manner of play – the principles that they would apply to running the Empire or their part in it. It’s no wonder that the Azadians find Gurgeh’s to be laughable – it is obviously completely different and inferior to their own, in their assessment.
We look at the effect of cultural context and language on Gurgeh’s play and behaviour – his descent into brooding silence and the apparent incomprehensibility of his game-play in the eyes of Flere-Imsahoand the Limiting Factor, as he resides exclusively in the language and mindset of the Azad empire.
And then, in mounting horror, we are given a glimpse of how the Minds that actually run the Culture might use the language, Marain, as their invisible means of control. In that sense, it unashamedly invokes Orwell’s 1984 and Newspeak.
“My respect for those great Minds which use the likes of you and me like game-pieces increases all the time. Those are very smart machines.”
I found it laughingly ironic that the final section of the book was called ‘The Passed Pawn’. By this stage, Gurgeh has been played (pwned?) by almost every character he has encountered, both in the Culture and in the Empire up to and including Nicosar himself. Did the Azadian Chief of Naval Intelligence really just have an off day on the game boards when playing Gurgeh, or was he ordered to lose to let the Culture representative through to the final match?
How deep was the conspiracy to draft Gurgeh in the first place? WasChamlisAmalk-ney part of the overall plot to ensnare him or just the doddering ancient old drone it appeared to be? It is over 4000 years old (a significant portion of the age of the Culture itself) and it did provide the initial referral to Contact after all. And there’s an early exchange where it disagrees with Yay who thinks an entity can have too much experience.
Was its rivalry with Mawhrin-Skel real or just an act? Was Chamlisex-Contact itself or perhaps a sleeper or an observer? Why had it retired to an orbital known for its eccentric population? Was the orbital shaped bracelet a simple gift or a subtle reminder of what Gurgeh was playing for?
Anyway, back to Civilization II. It was when I was reading the bit where Gurgeh, playing on the penultimate board of the final game, suddenly realises what Nicosar has done, that I had a minor epiphany of my own.
“In all the games he’d played, the fight had always come to Gurgeh, initially. He’d thought of the period before as preparing for battle, but now he saw that if he had been alone on the board he’d have done roughly the same, spreading slowly across the territories, consolidating gradually, calmly, economically … of course it had never happened; he always was attacked, and once the battle was joined he developed that conflict as assiduously and totally as before he’d tried to develop the patterns and potential of unthreatened pieces and undisputed territory.”
That’s exactly how I play Civ II. I explore constantly, expanding my holdings and developing resources from the centre outwards in all valid directions, automating production in a balance between military and domestic capabilities. I end up with more military capability than I probably need and I always develop a large navy, all the better to explore the world with. I play as one of the purple civilisation alternatives, as it gives me a tactical advantage – the purple civ always moves last in a game turn, allowing me to react immediately to another civ’s moves. And there’s a form of government in Civ ii that, while it slows down scientific development slightly, defies human nature and eliminates the losses due to corruption that would otherwise occur in a large widely distributed civilisation.
My epiphany was simply this: the closest I’m ever likely to get to living in the Culture is to continue to play Civilization II as the Mongols under a Communist government.

*You do know about Banks habit, when plotting, of using character trait acronyms as a shorthand to identify characters and then using those acronyms to actually name them later, don’t you? I will often amuse myself when reading Banks to try to work out what those acronyms might have been.
My suggestions for this Book:
Jernau Marat Gurgeh Jaded Master Gamer
Yay Meristinoux Young Minx
ChamlisAmalk-ney Cunning Ancient
Mawhrin-Skel Machiavellian Schemer/Spin-doctor
Professor Boruelal Peer Bedmate
RenMyglan Replacement Minx
FlereImsaho Fake Innocent

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

OMG, choplifter. I'll respond at length later. But, omg, Choplfter.

Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Re Civilization II

http://io9.com/5919613/decade+long-apocalyptic-game-of-civilization-ii-inspires-some-very-cool-fan-fiction

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

I found it extraordinary that this was only the second in the Culture Cylcle, because everything is already so well developed here. I got the impression through reading the other titles over the years that Banks developed the SC and Contact mythology as he went along, but no, he didn't. It's all here, good to go from the first page.

Bunyip reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Surtac, by contrast, I am a gameplayer. I am not interested in flashy FPS (and to be honest, my crudy desktop and intermittent regional internet is not friendly to MMOs)... but

Playing Go and imbibing THC got me through uni in the beginning of the 90s. As a punk rocker in the early 80s, my antidote to my friends descent into junkiedom was straight edge uni students playing DnD. My monthly games night is not a poker game, but a game of GURPS role playing game with a bunch of geeks. My best mate in town is a lecturer in video game design, and I'm know socially as a board gamer. So....

I loved the description of the flow of game play, whilst being spared the actual nuts and bolts. I've played games of Catan http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13/the-settlers-of-catan that have been frustrating and verged on being pointless, whilst others have have been like a dance that have kept me on the edge of my seat. I think it is safe to say that I thoroughly enjoyed IMB's description of gameplay.

Matthew K asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Excellent insights Surtac, thank you very much. I was never a boardgamer, I'm strictly FPS all the way which is probably why I suck at them... Of course one doesn't have to know games at all to enjoy and understand this book but you've shown me another facet. Thank you.

Yes Bunyp I had exactly the same youthful experience. My response was to head out on the highway in an old Land-Rover.

Matthew K asserts...

Posted April 13, 2013

Your way sounds smarter.

MickH would have you know...

Posted April 13, 2013

Excellent summation Surtac. I wondered about many of those things myself and I didn't know about the chaacter names.

I'm the same but with Civ 3. (can't stand the new ones) and I play a mod called 'double your please' which introduces heaps more elements across the board.

damian puts forth...

Posted April 13, 2013

Back when I was regularly getting lost in Civ III, I gave away my Civ II disk to a friend. I might have to borrow it back...

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Bunyip mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

It took me a while to realise that Gurgeh was not the actual player, and that he was merely a pawn, like the genetically engineered constructs. And like them, the gradual change that he goes through changed his play as a piece in the conflict between the Culture and the Empire.

Also the raising of the impacts of the structuring of language on cognition was nice bit of thinky.

And Mawhrin-Skel just reminded me of Mephistopheles.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Indigo is so cool you enjoyed PoG, I hope this means you will try a few others of the Culture Novels. But before enbarking on other sciencefiction be away that Mr Banks sets quite a high standard and you should seek recommendations from other cheeseburgers. I wish all Science Fiction was a clever and well crafted as Mr Banks work.

JG asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Thanks, Barnesy. I'll stick with Banks. I look forward to reading more of his Culture works.

MickH swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12, 2013

Be warned Indigo, This is the 3rd of his culture novels I have read and by far the best. Beware of 'Use of weapons' unless you like totally random flashbacks and 'Consider Phebas' was for me, a cross between Halo and Firefly.

JG mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

OK. Must Google Banks tomorrow and find out the extent of his publications.

Matthew K mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

Oh no I think the way the flashbacks slowly and delicately reveal the protagonist's childhood is masterful.

Genius stuff, like reading two books at once that come together at the end.

All those bits with the kids together in the manor house/palace (A Banks speciality) are really vivid. I totally recommend Use of Weapons.

MickH reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

Maybe I'm impatient or even a little lazy with my reading Matthew but I had trouble following it and that always annoys me. I don't get time to read for long periods, normally catching a para or 2 on the train or in bed before sleep and I think this style of writing needs to be read almost in one piece. There was too much left unexplained at the end but as I said, I'm lazy and sometimes I want stuff just handed to me.

Barnesm mutters...

Posted April 13, 2013

Use of Weapons was the first culture book I read, (I liked the title) and I enjoyed it enough to go on and read the rest. It was decades ago so I can't recall anything of my expierence other than the reveal that connected the two threads felt like a gut punch.

damian mumbles...

Posted April 13, 2013

Mick - I'd suggest putting Excession on your reading list, since I think you'll like the way the Minds natter away and the exploration of some of the themes you've talked about here. But the proviso is you probably won't enjoy the subthread of what's going on with the Grey Area and its one human passenger all that much - it's slow and gloomy, not really adding much to the overall story other than as a way of revealling the character of the Mind involved.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted April 13, 2013

Mick, if you have a long commute each day, try an audio book. I really did enjoy the Audible version of Games so much that I'm going to go back and get all the other titles in that form. It is a very rich immersive way to take in the story, and might help you keep track of the various characters arcs a little easier.

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

ok john sounds like a good idea. I've been wanting to try audio books for a while now. Whats the best place to source them?

MickH ducks in to say...

Posted April 13, 2013

And thanks Damian, I've added Excession to my list

damian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

And since it occured to me to check, I misremembered, the ship at the centre of the subplot I was talking about is called Sleeper Service, not Grey Area, which is a very different ship.

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

Audible.com, Mick.

Matthew K ducks in to say...

Posted April 14, 2013

Barnesm: "... the reveal that connected the two threads felt like a gut punch."

Yeah. Those flashbacks aren't random at all but a slow calculated ambush... Chairs *shudder*

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Apologies - the formatting is frakked. JB, you might want to sic Dan on this. Copying out of Word sux ballz. This is from raw text and it still sux.

Bunyip is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

Asked Dan about this prob this arvo. He claimed to have it sorted :-/

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

A writing point I wanted to make about this is how richly Banks renders the experience of playing Azad without having to explain the rules or indeed many of the specifics of Azad. It kept reminding me of the golf game in Goldfinger, which runs over a few pages and is recognised as one of the best literary expressions of that game ever put to paper. Interestingly, we see the same thing in casino Royale, with cards.

It must have been hellish difficult to compose those long, descriptive pieces, layering all of the meaning into them after Gurgeh came to understand what the Emporer was up to in their game, without being able to call on the established knowledge that Fleming could with golf.

damian is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yeah - I don't remember the golf bit on Goldfinger (shall have to re-read that sometime), but I definitely remember the card stuff in Casino Royale even from reading it as a teenager 30 years ago. It was a detailed and clearly knowledgeable depcition that made me interested in Baccarat. I suppose uni days rendered 500 my favorite card game, but we played Hearts in high school and I even once learned Picqet out of a book and taught a friend well enough that we got up to both being moderately stategic players. Never could do Poker.

Umberto Eco had an interesting essay on Fleming that I remember reading and don't really remember agreeing with or not. Must dig that up sometime for amusement's sake

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JG swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12, 2013

Wow! You've written a book there, Tac.

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah, Word's always been borked, as I recall.

JG has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Also having no luck getting online with Telstra tonight. Lucky I got Optus for my new iPhone5.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yeah I'm having Telstra issues. Might be the rain. Coming in horizontal at times.

JG puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

Unless this is Telstra's revenge for your Tweets and my response. Ha.

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TC ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

A great summation, JB - I was also going to mention how cool I thought Azad was.. without knowing a damn thing about it. It's amazing how I always felt I could picture the pieces moving and transforming... although in my imagination there was always a tank or two blowin' shit up.

I've enjoyed reading other people's ideas and there have been a few ideas that I probably hadn't really thought of. To be honest, my mind keeps wandering to comparisons between Player of Games and Use of Weapons so I have to continually control the urge.

Mostly I loved how Azad was the real politics in the book, while the multi-layered, complex politics going on around Gurgeh was the real game. It struck me as a little naive of Gurgeh that he didn' expect to be killed as part of the final game and while I didn't expect him to die (drones like those don't let people die), I felt real concern as the final lead-up began and things were heading... to a conclusion.

I dig the Culture and the command they have of the universe... not because of their level of power but simply because they become such a... balance. Comparing the Culture to Azad really highlights the good and the bad of both, and makes you wonder which you'd prefer if you had to choose...?

Bunyip reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

"Mostly I loved how Azad was the real politics in the book, while the multi-layered, complex politics going on around Gurgeh was the real game." Quoted for truth.

TC asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Cheers Bunyip.

(forgot to mention - James Boags Premium earlier, now onto Pier 10s awesome Barelli Pinot Grigio)

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

'...and while I didn't expect him to die...'

I thought Banks was toying with that old warning, 'Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it,' here. Gurgeh wanted, or thought he wanted some sort of antidote to the safety and predictability and creeping ennui of living in the Culture which was, for him, literally just a game. But when he decides, or gets 'gamed' into deciding to step outside the safe boundaries of the Culture into a relatively primitive and innately savage envirnoment, he insists, in a very Culture like fashion, that he doesn't want an armed drone to go alone with him.

We all see how that played out, of course.

Three cheers for Special Circumstances.

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 12, 2013

The difference between an audio and a text version of a book is striking. I've gone and got a lot of my favorites on audiobook just because it allows me to experience them in a different way.

However with Banks, be careful about Algerbraist and Matter as they are abridged and lose a lot.

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Guru Bob reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

I also was somehow under the impression that I had read this book before, especially as I am a big fan of Mr Banks, but was totally mistaken in that - it was all fresh and new to me. I enjoyed it a great deal as I do all of his sci-fi books.

I enjoy board games a great deal ranging from the old Avalon Hill strategy wargames through to the various incarnations of the Warhammer universe or the silliness of Arkham Asylum. The whole idea of someone dedicating their life to playing games is incredibly alluring to me and make me want to bring on the Culture now. The main issue is that I get a lot of my enjoyment of games out of how they send my imagination soaring, I like the ideas that games can express or stimulate, sometimes more then playing them to win so the layers of the Azad game were incredibly interesting to me. Even though we nerver really find out how it works, it seemed so incredibly fascinating and layered.

Glad to see that most of you also enjoyed the book as well - I second JB's note about how the Culture is already well described - even though this was only the second book set in that universe.

I am drinking some dodgy Italian apertif as we don't have anything else sitting around...

Guru Bob asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

Actually that drink is leaving unpleasant flavour in my mouth - may need to try something else...

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Guru Bob mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

I also have to say that I have been sadly disappointed by Murph's outright refusal to even read an Ian M. Banks book when it has been mentioned.

JG reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Why's that? You there, Murph?

Guru Bob puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

He has expressed this view a number of times, I was hoping he may have relented and actually read the book in this instance. But I don't know what time it is now in the USA, maybe some posts will pop-up soonish from early risers over there...

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted April 13, 2013

But why do you care, Bob? We can both agree it's Murph's loss, and he can agree to disagree. Surely it doesn't detract from our enjoyment of the work?

(This is me, being very Culture).

Guru Bob puts forth...

Posted April 13, 2013

Probably because his antipathy for Banks' writing puzzles me given his (Murph's) passion for science fiction and i think that the book club is an appropriate forum for him to discuss his reasons.

And partly because i enjoy stirring him or Barnes or Rhino or Havsy (in a good natured way) every now and then to see what happens?

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Bunyip is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

Imbibing Wild Turkey and dry.

JG mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

Sticking to mint tea tonight.

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MickH ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

ack! the page just ate my post!

JG has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

Darn! Always... Ctl C, just in case.

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MickH mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

I have been out and several chardies have been consumed so I will reply coherently tomorrow (bloody page just ate my first attempt)

One thing i would like to touch on though is that I think Bank's whole ntion of the culture civilisation is naive. I don't believe you can have any human society, no matter how advanced, without a police force force or a payment of consequences system. It doesn't account for basic human emotions such as jealousy, rage, wrath or anger. There will be murders of passion and other such crimes based on emotion and the culture seems ill equipped to handle them.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

In fact, Gurgeh has this very argument with someone in the book.

Matthew K is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

Yes he does and it does seem naive too.

But it is a utopia and has unlimited resources so it would be possible to head off problems even before the birth, before gestation even given the god like powers of the Minds.

But it is also SF and that often does need a certain... suspension of disbelief? What's the phrase. Mind's gone blank...

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Bunyip is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

Isn't the response that you get a constant companion drone that prevents you from committing the crime again, and that you become a social leper? "No one will invite you to parties". A social death, with a companion AI chaperone/jailor.

MickH mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

Soooo I can rape and murder someone but all I get as punishment is a party ban? Wow sign me on LOL

Barnesm asserts...

Posted April 12, 2013

remeber the person you are trying to rape and murder also may have a drone, and if they have a back up and a body regrown then the story gets out what you did you get your own person Ai chaperone/jailor as Bunyip describes.

Bunyip puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

I don't know. Social isolation sounds pretty scary to me. NEVER being part of a dialogue, never having someone smile at you, never getting a hug...

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Mick, you're forgetting that the Minds are more powerful than God. Because not only are they omnipresent they're effectively omnipotent too. And they will always act to prevent such shenanigans.

Matthew K reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Everyone carrying a "terminal" means that in the unlikely event of emergency a drone is teleported to you immediately and *thump* a field is between you and the danger.

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

As I have said below JB, I probably haven't read enough of coulture to see that much about the minds. In CP & UoW they are really just in the peripheral. And I take your point Matthew, thats true isn't it (for most cases) in fact theres a premise for a mystery crime novel right there!

Matthew K reckons...

Posted April 14, 2013

Oooh yeah! Good concept there Mick.

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Guru Bob ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

The Culture's parties do sound pretty good...

Guru Bob ducks in to say...

Posted April 12, 2013

In the Hydrogen Sonata there is the party that has been going on in an airship for a number of years.

MickH mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

like the one in hitchikers?

damian has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

Not really, in that it isn't multigenerational, and has a fixed climax/finish date

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MickH mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

So what about the guy they throw off the cliff. If the robots don't catch him who is at fault? The Drone or the throwers? Isn't that whole act socially irresponsible?

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted April 12, 2013

The drones don't miss, plus no doubt he'd be backed up and regrown.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yeah, unless he's taken himself offline, its just not possible to die like that on an Orbital, or a GSV, or pretty much anywhere a Mind is in control.

MickH asserts...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yeah, but still, isn't it socially irresponsible? (okay I know what you are going to say, it depends on the society etc etc)

Barnesm mutters...

Posted April 13, 2013

Probably considered rude and you wouldn't get invited around by anyone anymore

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

One of the frequent arguements leveled against the Culture raised not only in this book but in others is it breeds decadence and hedonism in its citizens, makes them soft and vulnerable, and deprives them of a sense of purpose and meaning, Gurgeh is painted this way when he is introduced where we see him drifting from party to party, and from lover to lover, in a haze of bitterness, envying and undermining the happiness and enthusiasm of those he encounters, desperate for a new challenge. But this is where we learn that Gurgeh is also somewhat an 'Outsider' as Brimo has alluded to in his piece. Gurgeh cares about winning. He wants to be the first to achieve certain victories. He wants to play for stakes his so much wants to win he is willing to cheat. \This is not how most of the culture behaves, at least outside of special circimstances which is no doubt why they can recruit him.

I wonder if Suzzane Collins got her idea for Game in the Hunger Games from PoG both stories posit a political system that is structured around, and shaped by a game. The empire of Azad is more than willing to pervert the purity of the game in order to ensure its own survival. It is here that it is revealed that the purpose of the game is not decide the policy the empire will follow but to preserve the status quo by ensuring only those who have been shaped by decades in the system and thus internalised how it operates can succeed thereby reinforcing the system. As special cicimstances worked out they needed someone who could immerse themselves sufficently to master the game but be not mastered by it. To win at Azad one must think as an Azadian, to value force of arms over diplomacy, conquest over cooperation, possession over sharing. And, as we discover while following Gurgeh up the tournament's rungs, the more proficient and successful one becomes at Azad, the more appealing these values come to seem. I was a bit alarmed at later parts in the book becuase it seemed as if Gurgeh was loosing himself to Azad, participating in the cruel sport of Nicosar's court, and is obsessed with winning the tournament, but I should have relalised that he has been cultured in and by the culture and would have to paly as culture just as Nicosar has to play as Azad.

One of the best parts for me in reading The Culture is the thought that this frewheeling, anarchistic, post scarcity benevolent dictatorship of the minds whislt trying to do the right thhing may need to commit a terrible wrong.

I would certainly welcome our Mind overlords such as those described in banks books

Guru Bob puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

I seem to recall that in at least one other book when the Culture goes to war it pulls out all the stops and trashes the opposition? Its enemies seem to always see weakness where there is really strength. The minds are actually quite capable of making harsh decisions and the drones can be vicious war machines.

I have to say one of my favorite things in these books is the names that ships give themselves....

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

I probably haven't read enough Banks to form an opinion on the 'Minds' yet but i do agree that they seem to be at odds with the hedonistic society they encourage, a bit like a benevolant big brother from 1984 perhaps?

You make a good point about Gurgeh wanting to win. But don't you think that everyone in that society would eventually get bored? (and fat watching endless re-runs of they're fav show). Yeah, he makes a point of showing some characters wanting to be lecturers or planet builders, but eventually, without motivation, you'd wither.

I can see why Banks has avioded the whole holodeck, total sensual-emersion thing as that is, in my opinion, the crack cocaine of modern technology. Nobody would come out. In fact if you took that idea all the way you'd end up with a sociaty that would be wired up like the bodies in the matrix

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted April 12, 2013

have to agree Bob, my fav in this book was 'Just Read The Instructions' followed very closely by 'Kiss My Ass'

:)

Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted April 12, 2013

For the complete list from PoGs

Flexible Demeanour

Just Read The Instructions

Of Course I Still Love You

Limiting Factor

Cargo Cult

Little Rascal

So Much For Subtlety

Unfortunate Conflict Of Evidence

Youthful Indiscretion

Gunboat Diplomat

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted April 13, 2013

Barnes: 'To win at Azad one must think as an Azadian'

Or so it seems, but of course, SC was playing a deeper game before Azad even realised the Culture had pieces on the board.

damian asserts...

Posted April 13, 2013

"I can see why Banks has avioded the whole holodeck, total sensual-emersion thing"...

Except he casts this as something that people can do instead of dreaming. Zakalwe has a go at it in UoW as an outsider getting to know what life is like in the Culture.

MickH swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

I was thinking of the dream sequence when i wrote that Diaman. Thats what triggered the thought.

damian is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

Some of the later books explore themes around simulations and virtual reality in depth, Matter and especially Surface Detail. It's there as a background theme in The Algebraist too (though that isn't a Culture book).

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Bunyip would have you know...

Posted April 12, 2013

Shite. Migrane looming.

Later...

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 12, 2013

Ouch. To bed with painkillers, bunyip.

Bunyip swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

Ta. Nailed it with sleep, but now back to the serious business of discussing PoGs. And I may give whippersnippering the lawn a miss today.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted April 12, 2013

At least with whisky even if its bad after a few its okay.

MickH mutters...

Posted April 12, 2013

and the resulting hangover sets up an interesting counter beat :D

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Matthew K ducks in to say...

Posted April 13, 2013

WTF? Testing testing.

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Matthew K ducks in to say...

Posted April 13, 2013

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The thing about utopias is that they're terrifically boring. After the first flush of discovery of the enormous perfect worlds full of indulged children and well fed spoilt adults who can have drugs for breakfast, even make their orgasms last longer for gods sake, the thrill wears off. All the reader is left with is inconsequential tales of who snubbed who and endless parties.

That is where our protagonist Gurgeh is, he's reached the top and he's had to stop. He's a gaming VIP; he's pretty famous in The Culture but is suffering ennui and boredom.

This, and some minor unpleasantness involving a cruel embittered little drone called Marwhin-Skel, leads him to voyage to the empire of Azad where the game is the Empire and vice versa, irresistible to such a deeply committed gamer. He travels as part of Contact, The Culture's equivalent of a diplomatic service.

And it is here that The Culture becomes interesting the cross over zone where it interacts with other less humane cultures, the intersection of the Venn diagrams. This is why Banks’s Culture books are always set on the ragged edge of it, either outside looking in, like the first “Consider Phlebas” or here on the cusp where the infinitely humane Culture is deciding how to treat those who violently loathe it’s most fundamental premises. Here then is conflict and narrative tension, especially as the evil Empire is deeply opposed to the very concept of The Culture and hilariously so misunderstands the size and scope of The Culture that it desires to one day invade it.

The pointless sadism of the Empire of Azad is slowly revealed to Gurgeh the deeper he progresses into the game contrasted with the deep moral rectitude of The Culture and the godlike AIs that run it.

Gurgeh climbs his way through the increasingly cruel game and finally plays the Emperor who unsurprisingly turns out to be a massively sore loser.

The Emperor’s apparently childishly brutal plan is foiled by the sudden reappearance of Marwhin-Skel who is exactly who we are ready to see by now. As the Empire of Azad has proven itself to be so endlessly brutal so the little drone has displayed an innate cruelty (give it a flower and it shreds it, hand it a wounded bird and dissects it). But we are so sick of Azad in all it’s multilayered filth that we revel as the drone rubs their face in it (“’Ha ha ha’ it boomed above the noise of the screaming wind”).

And yes through the book Gurgeh and we learn how the player has become the played.

It is demonstrated to us that the Minds are in charge of The Culture and how deep and subtle are their plans. The Minds rule all, as far from AIs as we are from capuchin monkeys. Where humans place in the Culture can be compared to that of a beloved pet dog in a household; a deeply loved and much indulged pet that the owners would happily kill to protect.

And that is what happens here; the Minds seeing the cruelty of Azad have played the Empire using Gurgeh as a pawn to provoke them, a demonstration of how their Champion can so effortlessly vanquish them on their own ground.

It is as if a child trailing a party balloon has wandered over and whispered in the torturing rapist’s ear “You’re shit and I’m going to fuck you up”. The Emperor cannot believe these fops, these Bertie Woosters are threatening him and he lunges forward – and Jeeves looms out of the shadows and takes his head off.

Why? The Culture is in no danger from the Empire Azad, it is like a scorpion threatening the occupants of an armoured limo.

But just as Azad loathes The Culture’s basic premise so do the Minds reciprocate on “general principles”.

As this second of Banks’ Culture book slowly reveals the depth of the Minds and their disregard for the wishes (if not the feelings) of the humans so his third “Use of Weapons” starts with a small demonstration of what a combat drone is capable of and we go on to another viewpoint on The Culture.

<!--EndFragment-->

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Matthew K is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

Ah I give up. i've sent my review to your cyber bunny JB.

This isn't much fun to tell the truth, I'm off to play some games 'cos I really need to murder someone right now.

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damian reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

So the pre-dinner drinks set me up for the red wine with dinner to knock me out. Who'da thunk? I guess long days and full weeks don't leave me up to much on a Friday night, but heck there are worse things than missing the start of a conversation.

The best Culture book for ship names is Excession, of course, which also explores break-away groups to a significant extent. It also explores ways to deal with misfits, hermits and outcasts - the people who might, in a different sort of environment, end up engaging in what for us is crime.

I'll write some more here a little later, when I'm more awake.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

I don't think it matter much if you miss the start. I'm increasingly thinking of bookclub as something runs over the whole weekend

MickH mutters...

Posted April 13, 2013

yeah, I think thats a good idea JB. Im usually to brain dead of a friday to put anything coherent together

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Bunyip would have you know...

Posted April 13, 2013

The subplot of the bigwig from one of the colleges (the bribery attempt, and the failed assassination attempt) really highlighted for me the political 'game' of the playing of Azad. For instance, the conflict between the (IIRC) admiral and the colonel that were members of different colleges.

And the side bets had me thinking of Russian Roulette.

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted April 13, 2013

so onto Gone Girl for next bookclub?

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yep

Bunyip mutters...

Posted April 15, 2013

By whenish?

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John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

Here's a question. Anyone else think that Mawhrin-Skel was never exiled from Special Circumstances. That he was put in place quite precisely to entrap Gurgeh? I don't think he says so at the end, but he certainly alludes to it.

damian reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yes and yes. Quite clearly SC marked Gurgeh as their man long before the action and were waiting for him to do something they could use to get him in. Mawrhin-Skel/Flere-Imsaho doesn't completely spell it out, but the giveaway is the fake drone casing gifted to Gurgeh right at the end, the one Chamlis is so apparently confused by.

I must admit, it did not occur to me that Chamlis might be "in on it" till Surtac's speculation above. Now that I think about it, is the animosity between Chamlis and Mawrhin-Skel suspiciously stagey in terms of distancing the two? It isn't ever really explained, except in terms of MS's behaviour. And surely such an ancient drone would have some idea what the fake clunky drone suit was.

damian would have you know...

Posted April 13, 2013

Oh! And I recall wondering whether the ambassador guy was actually Zakalwe. Far fetched, but less so when you consider UoW was written first, published later...

MickH puts forth...

Posted April 13, 2013

Yes it was a set up all along. I must admit I had applied my writers hat to this and thought that Banks had spent a lot of time and energy on Mawhrin-Skel so i wasn't in the least surprised when he made a reappearence.

Thats a very good point Damian, maybe it was.

Bunyip swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

Chamlis,Mawrhin-Skel; Good drone, bad drone.

Mind you, Kenny's audiobook reading characterisation of them made me think of a pair of feuding poofs, well reminded me of a particular pair of feuding poofs I knew IRL life.

In retrospect, the depiction of an old drone as doddery does seem a little manipulative.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted April 13, 2013

Hahahaha. Now, see, if Murph had actually read this book he could have gone to war on the use of the term 'manipulative'.

Bunyip ducks in to say...

Posted April 13, 2013

Dyslexia slure KO.

Bunyip swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

So... you reckon that Chamlis was a patsy?

Heck, if we go with the thesis that we only have Mawrhin-Skel's word to Gurgeh that he was kicked out of SC, and Chamlis was the conduit for the 'recruitment', he could have been a knowing actor in the hoodwinking of the 'piece'.

I might go with 'Byzantine'...

Suze puts forth...

Posted April 14, 2013

Very late to the conversation - though I was lurking on Friday night with a glass (ok, several) of d'Arenberg 2010 "The Custodian'" greanche in hand ...

Once it was all made clear at the end, (and I must admit to not even seeing it coming until then), I just assumed that MS has never left SC and it had all been part of a long term, elaborate plan. I have to say I wasn't shocked, though. It was more like a revelation: Of *course* Flere-Imsaho was Mawrhin-Skel! It all made sense. And it had been irritating me that we hadn't heard from MS again. Surely that little rogue wouldn't just vanish. I kept expecting him to pop up again with some act of treachery. So I was kind of relieved when that loose end was tied up.

And Damian, now that you say it, I reckon you're spot on about Chamlis.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted April 15, 2013

It was when we didn't hear from MS that I began to suspect he'd frocked up as FI.

Surtac reckons...

Posted April 15, 2013

There were a couple of minor incidents where FI acted a touch out of character that raised my suspicions - a flash of temper or a hint of petulance that were more like MS had been early in the book. Examples, during the 'hunting' scene where the exoskeleton equipped admiral kept kicking the drone, and its reaction; an earlier scene when it realised it had to stay inside its steampunk disguise and pitched a minor fit. And the tone of the commentary between the books sections was hinting at some sort of a reveal to come.

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Barnesm would have you know...

Posted April 13, 2013

Thats certianly the way I was thinking at the end, even to the point that he was the 'unreliable narrator' the whole time who of course turns out to be the reliable narrator once we know all the facts.

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Guru Bob would have you know...

Posted April 13, 2013

If the next book is going to be a crime novel my suggestion would be Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr, it has his wonderful 1930s German detective Bernie Gunther but works as a stand alone novel. Plus it has Nazis, lots of them...

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NBlob swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 13, 2013

I haven't re-read POG, since I read it 3ish years ago. Mr PTSD was emphatic in his fandom and I found it at a 2nd hand book shop, so I figured I'd give it a go.

I clearly remember struggling until about halfway through. Who was who and more importantly who was what. Then it started to make sense. So I went back to page one and started again. On the second read I really enjoyed it. I remember being taken with The Minds, Special Circumstances and the droids. The main protagonist just struck me as a spoiled winging prat. "Ooh how hard it is to have everything."

But probably a reasonable accurate, if slightly depressing, description of those ingrates called humans.

NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted April 13, 2013

Oh and thank you for the legit reason to break the diet induced drought. Started with a martini and since moved onto Mercury Ciders. Start work @ 06 tomorrow may prove er challenging.

ABC One Night Stand pretty good.

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Suze mumbles...

Posted April 14, 2013

While there's nothing new I can bring so late in such a fascinating discussion, I thought I'd throw in my two-bob's worth ...

This is not a genre I would typically choose to read - so thank you for pushing me outside my comfort zone. The fact that, despite my reticence, I was engaged enough, not only to finish, but enjoy PoG is testimony to Banks' talent. Like Indigo, As a SF newbie, I was constantly marvelling at the imagination required to construct these fantastic realities. I felt like they might actually exist somewhere.

Having never read anything else from the Cultre series, I was delighted that I needed no prior knowledge to get to know the characters who were perfectly painted and (mostly) humanoid enough that I could relate to them; nor have context to understand the worlds portrayed - though it did take me a while to get my head around it all.

I thought the Empire to be a comment on the very worst of human nature. The view into the mirror made me squeamish to say the least - which is no doubt what Banks intended. I love the suggestion by Barnes that the portayal of worlds at ends of a utopian spectrum might be considered a response to Orwell. I believe however, that as humans we are all fundamentally flawed - regardless of the scarecity or abundance of commodities - and this is what was portrayed in the Empire. For me, the Culture was painted as an ideal - a utopian state we might aspire to achieve, perhaps, but fundamentally unreachable. Because we always want more.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted April 14, 2013

Well it's always struck me that the "bad" behaviour that is supposed to be human nature is actually learned. Certainly it has always been so in my experience.

NBlob would have you know...

Posted April 14, 2013

Sorry Suze, already 2 Bobs in the conversation, G & N. maybe to lire, kroner, or pfenning? Greybeard may have some polished pebbles

Suze mumbles...

Posted April 14, 2013

IS it learned, though, Damian? I love a good nature vs. nurture discussion. Capitalist society certainly brings some of our less desirable characteristics to the fore (Karl Marx, anyone? Or maybe Gordon Gecko ...), but I think a propensity for greed and selfishness - as well as kindness and compassion - is latent in all of us. It depends what the nurturing brings out. I think we would reject the premise of the learning if there wasn't the capacity to begin with. Having said all that, I do have faith that people are fundamentally good. Except for, you know, the sociopaths ...

Suze swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 14, 2013

Oh, and NBlob? How about Peso? Or there's always goats, I suppose ...

Matthew K asserts...

Posted April 15, 2013

I agree. About human nature not the goats thing. Can't trust goats, they gots shifty eyes.

damian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 15, 2013

In the general case it's not even opinion, but empirically true, that yes, it is learned, almost all things. Certainly everyone has capacities either way, but there is no genetic determinism. Even traits expressed through genes are now known to be modified in early life through interpersonal actions and conditions. There really isn't a "nature versus nurture" debate anymore, precisely because these are merely aspects of the same thing.

It's uncanny and spooky witnessing just what things do pass on through genes. But for overwhelmingly most people their appetites and prejudices are inherited socially rather than genetically.

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damian would have you know...

Posted April 14, 2013

Nah if there's already two bob, then with Suze's two bob you only need another shilling to make a pound...

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Respond to 'The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks'

Player of Games, Cheeseburger Bookclub

Posted April 8, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

It's taken us a while to get there, and poor Banks has had a spot of bother in the interim, but I can finally see my way clear to holding bookclub this Friday night. Phew.

We'll kick off 7.30, as always, but the thread can run thru the weekend.

14 Responses to ‘Player of Games, Cheeseburger Bookclub’

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted April 8, 2013

already a thrid of the way through Gone Girl.

If anyone whines that they didn't get enough time to read Player of Games....

heck probably had time to do a video review, post it to Youtube and put it up.

Bunyip reckons...

Posted April 8, 2013

Just finished the audio book. Listened to it whilst in Sydney, and on my way back home. Made for a dramatic journey down the Hume.

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Blarkon puts forth...

Posted April 8, 2013

Are we doing the Reynolds after Gone Girl?

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JG puts forth...

Posted April 8, 2013

Great. I'll post the notes I made a few weeks ago.

Yes, Blarkon. In May.

I've started on Gone Girl. It's terrific! A page turner.

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MickH would have you know...

Posted April 8, 2013

how you getting on with the "Painted Man" JB?

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John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 8, 2013

You mean The Warded Man? I've been waiting to clear the Rothfuss novel out of my head before I get back to it.

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MickH mumbles...

Posted April 8, 2013

The warded man is the american title, here, its the painted man. go figure!

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Bunyip asserts...

Posted April 8, 2013

Hey, is your 7:30pm the same as ours down here in more civilised and less moldy climes? Just asking for a single parent wrangling minions that Friday night.

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MickH would have you know...

Posted April 8, 2013

yeah, it is now Bunyip

Bunyip mumbles...

Posted April 9, 2013

Ta Mick.

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Matthew K reckons...

Posted April 8, 2013

What kind of word count is considered polite here?

Not done one of these before and don't want to spam everyone with a wall of words.

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 9, 2013

No limit other than the guide offerred by the Bard.

"brevity is the soul of wit"

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damian mutters...

Posted April 9, 2013

I'll be around. Might have to re-read PoG *again* during the week...

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Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted April 9, 2013

Damian, I've found I can't seem to stop myself re-reading PoG. :)

Since his announcement, I've also been trying to finish the last few titles of his that I haven't yet read. Finished Complicity in a couple of days, and now onto Whit, with Stonemouth still to follow.

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Respond to 'Player of Games, Cheeseburger Bookclub'