Players at the Game of People

by John Brunner
Reviewed date: 2007 Jun 5
Rating: 2
219 pages
cover art

Players at the Game of People is a distinctly British science fiction novel. By British, I mean:

  • Dystopian
  • Critical of the useless upper class
  • High regard for a man's honor and reputation

If it were an American book, it would be about enterprise, liberty, and a man's right to his property. Americans don't understand class distinction and don't value a man's reputation.

Plot synopsis: Godwin Harpinshield is one of the secret elite. He has access to every material thing that the world provides--food, drink, property, women. He is not bound by the laws of space and time; he can go swimming in Hawaii in the morning and have brunch in Paris. He does not age. For all this he pays a price: several times a year, he cedes control of his mind and body.

Godwin believes himself satisfied with this arrangement. Sometimes he gets jaded, but he always invents some new pursuit to amuse himself. But one incident causes him to doubt whether his loss of liberty is worth it: an encounter with a young girl who he saves during the London Blitz. A few discrepancies in his experience lead him to doubt whether his memories are accurate, whether the incident actually happened, and whether he is really who he believes himself to be. He has sold ownership of his body and mind to an alien possessor, but now he realizes he may have sold his soul as well.

Players at the Game of People is a hard book to read, because Brunner takes so long to reveal the nature of Godwin's possession. That's deliberate, because Godwin hides that knowledge even from himself. The climax of the book occurs when Godwin is finally forced to confront the facts. But that doesn't make the book any less convoluted and confusing.

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