Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review: Players at the Game of People (1980) by John Brunner

Having been delighted with John Brunner’s The Whole Man, I had high expectations for Players at the Game of People. Unfortunately this novel turned out to be bleak, where as The Whole Man was hopeful, and depressing, where as The Whole Man was uplifting.

Players at the Game of People is also quite a confusing read. If it were not for the dust-jacket blurb, I wouldn’t have understood what was going on until about halfway through the novel. That said, the second half of the novel is much better than the first and almost made the novel as a whole worth my while.

Here’s the basic concept: Godwin is one of many human beings who have surrendered themselves to alien entities (or if you prefer a supernatural metaphor, devils). In exchange for allowing these entities to take over their bodies at a moment’s notice, the humans receive whatever career and/or lifestyle they wish. Godwin has chosen to be a man of leisure, experiencing exotic locales & women, eating posh food, and driving a fancy car.

The first half of the novel is so tough to get through because Godwin is so deeply unhappy and bored with his life. Clearly the deal he made has resulted in his inability to appreciate any of the delights of life, because they come without any effort.

In the second half of the book, Godwin comes to an awareness of how he has “sold his soul,” despite his adamant argument that without the deal he most likely would’ve ended up a wasted drunk on skid row. Sadly his awareness does not lead to character change. The ending is decidedly tragic.

As a reader, I’m perfectly willing to lay aside a book part the way through if it doesn’t please me. So it says something that I finished this novel, actually reading the last half in one sitting. Perhaps the hope of a redemptive ending kept me going. Whatever the case, I must admit that Brunner has done a excellent job of revealing in excruciating detail what it truly means to ‘gain the whole world but lose your soul.’

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