Synopsis: “The Culture–a humanoid/machine symbiotic society–has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel & incredibly wealthy, to try their 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 possibly his death.”
The first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas, did a lot of world-building heavy lifting from a Culture antagonistic POV. Having read that previously, this one is allowed to come in and really flesh out the world from a pro-Culture POV, which was really fun. Reading them in order gave a sort of a pros-and-cons approach to their philosophy. We get all of the negative things about the Culture first, and then we start to see the positives in this book.
Big shocker, I really loved it. The complexities of the main character and his occasional slips into apathy and/or something much darker during his experiences playing the game and interacting with the foreign philosophy an actions of the Empire, were handled expertly and really made him feel flesh and blood.
Ultimately, this story serves as an allegory for — and examination of — the ultimate cause of the baser desires of humanity. The Culture’s philosophy stands in for one possible method that these social terrors might be not only curtailed, but pretty much completely circumvented. Of course, this is a work of fiction, and this philosophy may not work so perfectly in practice. I do think there is at least a little truth to it though, but for it to function in practice we may need access to those pesky ‘unlimited resources’ that the Culture has.
Bottom line, you should read this book. But you should also read Consider Phlebas first. Don’t be an idiot, read the books in publication order. There has never been a series that has ever benefited from being read/watched/listened to in any other order than the order it was published in.
Since I read this back to back with Consider Phlebas, think I’ll read a quick palette cleanser before moving on to Use of Weapons. This is heavy stuff, and I’m exhausted.