Gurgeh is one of the greatest game-players the Culture’s ever produced: respected and rarely beaten, he is successful at almost everything he attempts. Nevertheless in time, feeling unfulfilled, he becomes restless and asks Contact – the Culture organization whose job it is to find, investigate, analyse and occasionally interfere in other civilizations – to find something that might challenge him.
What they find him is the Empire of Azad, a civilisation of immense wealth and appalling cruelty, a hundred thousad light-years away from home and everything he knows, where there exists a game so complex and so closely modelled on the rules of existence that the winner becomes Emperor.
Under threat of blackmail, and with no real choice, Gurgeh accepts the challenge and sets off on a year-long journey to a strange land where the ultimate game becomes one he knows he cannot win.
Iain Menzies Banks (officially Iain Banks, 1954-2013) was a Scottish writer. Iain Banks read English literature, philosophy and psychology at Stirling University. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Fife.
Banks sprang to public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Since then, Banks has gained great popular and critical acclaim. The Times has acclaimed Iain Banks ”the most imaginative British novelist of his generation”. As Iain M. Banks he writes science fiction and as Iain Banks he writes literary fiction. Much of Banks's science fiction deals with a vast interstellar civilisation, the Culture.