LiGa by Sanem Ozdural. Book review

ligaLiGa by Sanem Ozdural, Elsewhen press, paperback, £9.99,

Reviewed by Richard Webb @RaW_writing

Life Game – abbreviated, or rather branded as LiGa in the book – is a high-stake sport, without spectators, in which participation is by private invitation only; that, and an entrance fee of $10M. Why? Because the prize if life, or rather, life-energy, specifically that of the losing opponents. In Ozdural’s future, the technology exists to ‘bank’ a portion of your life-force and for it to be transferred to another person: high stakes indeed.

The world describes in the book is not much different from the one we exist in, and this grounds the conjectures of the narrative. The life-game in question is bridge, yes, that bridge, the card game so often viewed as the preserve of pensioners. Here it is given a fresh twist as the battleground for immortality. Bridge is a social game, built on double-guessing your partner’s hand as much as your opponent’s and what Ozdural does well is to expose the brutality under the veneer of the somewhat genteel pastime.

A cornerstone of the book is the diversity of the eight players in the game, a colourful assortment of fleshed-out personalities including a priest, a judge, a financier and a racing driver, with none of the group clearly the one to root for. This makes for intrigue and nuance in their interactions, layered with complexity as at different times they are paired with, or against, one another, all with their eyes on the ultimate prize.

One does not have to play bridge in order to appreciate the story but I sense that had I understood the game better, I would have enjoyed the detailed machinations of the bridge games more. As it is the passages recounting the motions of the game could be alienating for those unable to recognize the ebb-and-flow of moves and counter-moves; the subtleties of how each player calculates and executes their strategies is revealing of character but is harder to absorb if the game itself leaves the reader cold: the tension of each game is lessened if one does not understand whether a certain move is risky, or foolish, for instance.

Beyond the style and framework of the game itself, perhaps of more import are the philosophical questions at its core regarding immortality and gambling with your life. Would you risk a significant fore-shortening of your life in order to potentially win an extension, the prize being that your body effectively stops aging? Is it morally appropriate to do so? Understanding the reasons why each participant was willing to take this risk what it would mean to them was ones of the slow-burning joys the story yielded. What does immortality mean for a person’s perspective, relationships and ambitions? Aligned with this was an interesting thread enquiring into how other people reacted when they heard that the main characters were going to participate in the LiGa tournament — how would their lives change if their partners became immortal?

Overall, this was an intimate, sometimes intense but thought-provoking work of speculative fiction…but didn’t make me want to take up bridge.