While there are several better books in the series, this one does feature quite a bit more coverage of life inside the Culture than the previous book, Matter. When I first read through it, I tried to pass off my lack of connection with the narrative as my own shortcomings with relating to the POV characters. Now, as I'm reading through the newest installment, The Hydrogen Sonata, I am rethinking that position.
I don't think it's really me that's the problem with a book so fucking full of rape. Two out of three of the female POV's are subjected to years (or is it centuries in hell?) of rape. One for daring to ignore society's imposed structure and the other for daring to be so damned pretty (And I'm saying three, but that third one? Actually closer to asexual). It's so rapey that I couldn't afford to connect with the text if I was going to finish it.
There's all sorts of cool ideas and fun action, but when I think back on this book, I shudder a bit.