Science Fiction

Reading Recommendations from Me and My Colleagues

mine is The Player of Games, by Iain Banks

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Every year, the University of Chicago Law School asks the faculty for some of our holiday reading recommendations. I usually try to recommend one fiction and one non-fiction book, but this year I'd succumbed to several months of readers' block (not completely unrelated to being the father to a new toddler…) and thought I would have neither. But in the nick of time, I found a fiction recommendation:

Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games

The main character is a world famous game-player who is lured away from his home to play a game so complicated that a multi-planet empire has been constructed around it. Political intrigue, personal intrigue, principal-agent problems, and other forms of game theory ensue, though we never learn the details of this or any game. The book also serves as an introduction to Banks's Culture series, a set of science fiction books set in a post-scarcity society where humans live satisfied but boring lives while artificial intelligence handles the strategic planning. This novel is so captivating that it helped break me out of a several month period of reader's block.

You can click here for the rest from my colleagues.

(A new post on a non-fiction recommendation should be coming soon…)


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  1. An excellent recommendation, set in my favorite dystopia. The Hydrogen Sonata is another good one, with a similar sort of theme.

  2. I read that as well.

    Very interesting non-Star Trek look at what infinite abundance from technological utopia gets you – insufferable fops; insufferable fops everywhere.

    The ending is a bit…direct for my taste compared to the rest of the book. But the rest of the book is awesome at describing complicated games just enough to give you the theme and mood of them.

  3. I think Consider Phlebas is a better introduction to the Culture.

    1. Interesting, personally I enjoyed The Player of Games over Consider Phlebas.

      1. Why should we consider Phlebas? He is just another white male capitalist, getting by on his looks and height. Plus he has been dead for two weeks.

  4. I’m a huge huge Banks fan and I love science fiction but when it comes to his science fiction usually prefer his “mainstream” efforts over his SF.

    I think The Bridge is his best work, that’s a really outstanding novel in every respect.

    I’d also recommend The Wasp Factory. I doubt there’s anything in all of literature that compares to it for being out there inventive, weird and just plain disturbing. Some of the dialogue in that book is the funniest black humor I’ve ever encountered in a novel. The chapter relating how the main protagonist’s brother went insane is, well, probably unique in the literature of the macabre. Maybe the novel’s greatest achievement is making a serial killer and torturer of animals seem like a very likeable character.

    I also really enjoyed Complicity.

  5. I encourage everyone to look at the linked list taken from all U of C faculty; and then ask yourself: why is it that virtually every time recreational reading comes up here, all we hear about are fantasy/sci-fi books?

    1. I don’t know what you mean. Out of the forty-odd books in the list only two, maybe three, are fantasy/SF.

      1. Quite frankly, I’d say that the majority of the list is non-fiction.

      2. I’m talking about the books that have been and will be listed here on the VC.
        The overall UC faculty list demonstrates the breadth that is lacking here.
        It’s like this blog is frequented solely by white male nerds.

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