On the top shelf in the corner of corner closet, or behind the printer on a corner table in the corner of the room, sits a briefcase carrying the combined paperwork of a married couple spanning eight years. Once a week, it eagerly swallows the few morsels given, and once every so often, vomits a piece into a beckoning empty hand. It’s convenient storage for the juicy tidbits the couple won’t trash. It’s beneficial organization for the cacophony of tree pulp that gushes when given free reign. It’s heavier than it looks.
English, Spanish, Math, Science, Reading, Writing, Tests, Results, Plaques, Pictures, Newspapers, Articles, Groups, Societies, Commendations, SCC, NYU, Parson’s, Mensa, SCAD, FSU, Files, Forms, Scholarships, Grants, ACS, Chase, Perkins, Stafford, Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Statements, Agreements, Letters, Laptops, Phones, Printers, Chairs, Routers, Keyboards, Grocery Lists.
In the back of a brain in the corner of the mind, or behind the eyes in the fluid of a headache, sits a fat, little monster fed with these endless streams of paper. Light and white, fluttering in the wind, these papers bend the table on which they sit and the mind on which they hang. The beast and its papers are invincible; the couple needs these tasty morsels, these juicy tidbits, these papers and laminates and things. They cannot hold them, shuffle them, organize them, or access them without the help of an ink-labeled friend.
Sheet, Down, Buzz, Up, Sheet, Down, Buzz, Up. Little by little, the feast falls from depths of the maw. Click, Type, Click, Drag, Click, Type, Click, Drag. Piece by piece, the papers fly to be snatched by binary guards. Sheet, Click, Down, Type, Buzz, Click, Up, Drag. Slowly, but doggedly the couple sits watching heavy paper become weightless numbers. They would need those numbers, those binary bits, those PDFs and PNGs and things. They could not hold, them, shuffle them, organize them, or access them alone… but their whirring, spinning, beasts of burden could and would and could do better than the shuffling, sneaky, starving rodent hiding away in the corner.
Goodbye, tiny briefcase. May your burning be bright and brief.
I love physical books–the look, the feel, the smell. I’ve never lived in a home absent two full shelves, and my sister maintains a thousands-strong collection. However, living simply, I’ve now passed on (to family, friends, and charity) the majority of my books: children’s fiction kept since youth, teenage fantasy responsible for my personality, beautifully-written adult prose, life-changing academic texts, inspiring autobiographies, and miscellaneous novelties. A few favorites were digitally replaced, but all these were sent away.
Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, describes itself as:
“The ultimate triumph of Good and Light has transformed the world into a place of sweetness and peace. This is bad news for the “bad guys,” who include a depressed [assassin] who dresses in black, his short, feisty sidekick, a black knight, a female Druid, a man-eating sorceress, and an innocent centaur who is a spy for Good.
Finding utopia boring, they set out on a quest to restore balance to the world.”
It’s described by me as:
My first approved book from my sister’s library; my first book appropriated from said library; my first self-aware, genre savvy book; my only book held together with tape; my favorite book which defined my favorite genre, favorite character archetypes, and favorite fantasy worlds…
And now my only physical book.
Buy This Book | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks was required for my current university course: Symbolic Communications and Cartography. The name intrigued, but the copy hooked:
The Culture—a human-machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer, and strategy.
Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try its fabulous game… a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possible his death.
With a two week time frame, I started and finished today. Here are my top five comments on the book.
- Banks presents a legitimate utopia, not a subtle dystopia or bubble world with hidden puppeteers, but a real physical, mental, and emotional paradise worth preserving. This is such a departure from our current existence that despite the guise of humanity, the idea felt alien. The minimization, trivialization, and optional transience of biological gender; the disestablishment of money; the universal provision of needs and wants; the introduction, inclusion, and normalized interaction with artificial intelligence and machines; the artistic creation of celestial bodies; multi-dimensional space travel; and a host of other details formed a universe as unsettling as it was unique.
- The main character—Jernau Morat Gurgeh—is a genius, but not to the absurd degree of Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarti, or similar characters. He’s believable, and though some may find him more relatable for it, I’d prefer an impossible intelligence. Though passable, he has no real defining characteristics apart from an aptitude for and brilliance toward games. I may have enjoyed his character more, except…
- The rules for the primary game—Azad—are never described. By the end, I had inferred that the game involved: the maneuvering, battling, and capturing of troops; the manipulation of primary elements to change terrain; and several boards, dice, cards, and auxiliary games. Though moves and scenarios were described, most could be simplified to: The opponent played well. Gurgeh played very well. Though I recognize the game is meant to be an infinitely complex microcosm of life, I need some way to understand the immensity and brilliance of Gurgeh’s genius.
- The stark descriptions of the Azadian culture were dark and gruesome, but refreshingly realistic. Most writers understand the depths of depravity to which humans (or suitably related aliens) are willing to stoop, but many soften the acts for their readers or themselves. The Player of Games, on the other hand, made me wince at times, despite my higher-than-average tolerance for inventive torture. Many may see this as a negative, but I generally approve of oft-avoided, detailed descriptions of the darker sides of life.
- Though much of the story centers on a genius player’s climb through a stacked tournament, the final “twist” shifts the focus to political subterfuge. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but when reading The Player of Games, featuring the most talented “player of games” humanity has to offer and the most intricate, beautiful game in the galaxy—upon which the fate of a civilization rests—I was more concerned with the game than the surrounding politics.
Story? Compelling, but not particularly unique. The champion of a species fighting against the odds in an other-worldly tournament isn’t exactly new.
Characters? Suitable, but generally bland or one-dimensional. They fill the roles they were written to play.
World? Any writer or reader interested in world-making should read this at least once. Two complete civilizations are presented, each a clinic in detail, depth, and presentation. The world is the sole reason I recommend this book.