Takes substantial intelligence to get into the story, but once you’re in you don’t want to leave. Morat Gurgeh is The Player of Games. In the advanced civilisation known as the Culture he can adapt and play any game across the galaxies. He has lost before, but the thrill of not knowing whether he will win or not is partly what drives him. But he’s bored of requests to play, and seeks a challenge.
When Contact, a special division of the Culture, makes ‘contact’ with Gurgeh it is because they have something special planned for him. Across a breadth of space the Azad Empire is notorious for its cruelty and aggressive militaristic expansion. The empire’s board game, also called Azad, is what determines the hierarchical structure of their society. And Contact wants Gurgeh to learn and play Azad, but it’s not clear why to Gurgeh. When Gurgeh lands on a planet of the Azad Empire, he soon realises he is in way over his head. The Culture and his friends are forgotten about as he witnesses the barbarism of these humanoids. As a reader I wondered if Gurgeh would ever escape from the clutches of such evil, and if such evil would expand and eventually swallow the Culture, being as pervasive and authoritarian as it was.
This is a must-read!