Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
One of the better Culture books in the series. I hate most series of books, but The Culture keeps me coming back for more. This book is about a well hatched plot by an enemy of the Culture to take revenge for an 800 year old injustice. There are three threads in the story: the Chelgrian ambassador going to visit the Culture orbital, the Chelgrian emigre living on the Culture orbital, and a Culture scientist studying flying creatures. These threads we beautifully woven together until everything becomes clear near the end of the book. It's incredible how Banks can weave together such a dastardly political plot which keeps the reader guessing, and makes you laugh at the great dialogue too. It's hard to write reviews for books like this because I don't want to give too much away, so if you want to learn more, read some other reviews people have written.
As with all Culture books, we learn a bit more about the Culture civilization. We learn how people keep themselves busy for entertainment on orbitals. We learn more about the history of past battles with the Culture. We also learn about new species. In this one, we get to know the Chelgrian species. They are a furry, sort of centaur/cheetah like race. We get to look inside the Mind who runs the orbital Masaq' and dig out some of the skeletons in its closet too.
“In the old days people died and that was that; you might hope to see them in heaven, but once they were dead they were dead. It was simple, it was definite. Now … ” He shook his head angrily. “Now people die but their Soulkeeper can revive them, or take them to a heaven we know exists, without any need for faith. We have clones, we have regrown bodies—most of me is regrown; I wake up sometimes and think, Am I still me? I know you’re supposed to be your brain, your wits, your thoughts, but I don’t believe it is that simple.”
This is probably my 2nd favourite novel in the series after The Player of Games. I know if I could live in any fictional universe, it would be The Culture. Their citizens get to enjoy all the excitement of life without the fear of death. They are free of money. They get to live on paradises called orbitals. I wonder if our species will ever make it as far as The Culture civilization? I can only hope.
And, as often happens after reading a thrilling Culture novel, I have already dived right in to #8 Matter.