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Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The Player of Games  - Iain M. Banks I'd been putting off reading this next book in the Culture series. I remembered starting it at University, not getting on with it, and giving up. But, as part of my decision to read the series from the start, in the correct order, it was something I couldn't put off forever. Turns out this was a stupid delay, having read the book straight though I had no recollection of every having read any of it before. Not only that, but it was awesome. Better-than-the-previous-book awesome - and I already gave that 5-stars!

While Consider Phlebas is set during the Culture's war with the Idirans, Player of Games is almost a prequel to a potential war with the Azad. Jernau Gergeh is tricked into signing up for a Contact (the Culture's group for dealing with first contact situations) mission to the empire of Azad. Gergeh is a game player, possibly the best game player in the whole of the Culture. Contact want him to go to Azad and play the game their entire empire is based on - Azad. Little does Gergeh realise that almost nobody is being totally honest with him about anything in this whole mission.

Banks gives us a story that builds on the world he started with Consider Phlebas, but introduces another facet of the Culture. Again, for a supposedly peaceful, post-scarcity society, we get another story on the edges of a war. Although this one is more threatened than actual. Gurgeh struggles with both not really knowing why he's there, but also discovering that not only is the Empire of Azad far uglier than it pretends to be, but the Culture isn't as squeaky pure as it would like to paint itself.