How do I love thee, Culture universe? Let me count the ways by playing--
Awesome tech: check
For starters, we have the standard fare of neural laces, AIs, drug glands, etc etc, everything that makes the Culture a level 8 civ. Today's main course is a Bulbitian, an ancient ship and a talking singularity. For desert, have a virtual Hell. Oh my.
Cool aliens: sorta-check
A clear majority of pan-human players this time, but you gotta love the GFCF. Plus, the Pavuleans are like...elephants or something? I can't quite remember.
Best AIs in science fiction: check
The Culture ships will never not be amazing. And funny. Oh to be on a GSV just once.
Demeisen, anyone? Banks should get awards for the way writes human/machine interaction. (Minor niggle: Not enough drones this time!)
Physics I don't get: check
Come on. There's a Talking. SINGULARITY. Boom.
Also, if you, like me, have a habit of browsing the final pages of a book before you're even half-way through? DON'T. Not this time! Or if you must, don't look at the final word of the book. (HOW'S THIS FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE). I, for one, didn't, so I didn't see it coming, and my jaw dropped about a mile. Now to read it again, knowing what I do.
Loved this. Despite some slow bits and some characters whose purpose still isn't clear to me (e.g. Yime), I still worship at Banks's altar.