Yes, you heard me. Nothing less would be enough. I first learned about "Culture series" of which this book is part of from the friend with whom I was sharing my impressions about the first book of Ann Leckie's trilogy. She told me that Ian Banks did these themes much better and boy do I agree with her now. And I have read one book out of ten.
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 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 story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game. Me? I’ll tell you about me later."
Pretty much the blurb is correct. Jernau Morrat Gurgeh is bored with his success. He is a talented and well known game player, but he feels that he lost the enjoyment for the game, for life.
He lives in the society ruled by the sentient ships, by the Minds of all kinds. The interesting part of this society that it seems to have clear socialist flavor - you have to understand, I deeply despise socialism in its pure form (and no, most people in the US who are afraid that we are moving towards socialism have no effing clue what they are talking about. I am always tempted to find a time travelling machine and send them to live in USSR for few years and then check with them and ask whether they really think that president Obama has socialistic ambitions or whatever other nonsense they could come up with, getting off my soap box now), but it is very interesting for me to see a writer who did not grew up in the country I grew up with to explore a future of this variety. Amusing, shall we say.
So anyway, in this society people do not have to work, do not need to work, but then the problem arises what to do with their free time of which they apparently have a lot. Studying , okay, playing games, sure. But then people can apparently still get bored.
The full picture of what Culture civilization really is apparently becomes clear throughout all the books - I was told they are different stories but set in the same universe and as I said world building is revealed slowly. So I do not know everything yet, but Banks makes the bits and pieces so enticing so tantalizing.
What we know I think that the Minds truly do want the best for their people - they seem to have progressive values of all kinds. However what they also do is interfere in the lives of other societies if they feel they are bad, less progressive or something. Basically with the help of some trickery our main hero is sent to play the game in the evil Empire of Asad. And the empire IS evil, do not get me wrong, but what right do the Minds have to impose their will on other societies? It is almost like they act like, oh I don't know, another Empire maybe?
I was *glued* to the pages, I kid you not. Highly recommended.