I quite like a bit of science fiction for something a little different every now and again, and have really enjoyed some of Banks' other offerings like 'Consider Phlebas' and 'Against a Dark Background', although I found the plot in both a bit too close to Serentity for comfort. The Player of Games is different and even though he embarks on a journey into other galaxies the main story details his game playing antics and integration into a new and often brutal society. If you want a read with an entertaining story and the ability to make you think then this book if a definite winner.
This is the second Culture novel after 'Consider Phlebas' and is far less dark and war torn, and explains Culture society and structures in far greater detail. The Culture is a cross galaxy, technology savy, super society that has eradicated many of the afflictions prevalent in humanity and is a fascinating idea as a vision for our ultimate evolution. The book places the Culture's seemingly more advanced position against the harsh, semi-dictatorship of Azad where state violence and exploitation is the norm.
We experience Azad through the eyes of Jernau Gurgeh, the best games player in all the Culture and a bit of a Bohemian ladies man with mixed up scruples. It all makes for great fun as the liberal, intelligent game player is forced to confront and participate in the baser, guteral and often violent actions of his morally challenged hosts. It's not unlike being a metro-sexual in modern day, egg throwing South Yorkshire.
There is so much to love in the book. I particularly liked the interaction with the various floating robot characters, the obscure names, the three gendered nature of the Azad people and the internal conflict in Gurgeh's brain. You feel like you've been on a journey yourself on completion of the story, learning and exploring something about yourself. Surely the mark of a decent book.