I know it's a bit late, but I've decided to keep a quote page for this one. It will prevent me from attempting to awkwardly shoehorn every good quote I encounter into my review, which was a real problem for Player of Games.
“There are two stories, but you know most of one of them. I’ll tell them at the same time; see if you can tell which is which.” (38)
"One of the ways it amused them [the Culture] to wield that power was to interfere in societies they thought might benefit from the experience, and one of the most efficient ways of doing that in a lot of societies is to get to the people at the top." (40)
"[The Culture is] soft the way the ocean is soft, and, well; ask any sea captain how harmless and puny the ocean can be.” (40)
"I," said the man, "am called Cheradine Zakalwe." He leveled the gun at Ethnarch's nose. "You are called dead." (45)
"Anyway, he knew in his heart that there was a relief in not being listened to, sometimes. Power meant responsibility. Advice unacted upon almost always might have been right, ad in the working out of whatever plan was followed, there was anyway always blood; better it was on their hands." (46)
Huh. So the Culture is pretty much Asimov's future, except that there's definitely no first law. And it's not really anarchy, is it, if the machines are in charge and deciding the laws? And do you really want to trust folk named "Just The Washing Instructions In Life's Rich Tapestry" with deciding and upholding the laws?
On second thought, can't be much worse, can it? (55)
"Xeny, you are a million-ton starship, a Torturer class Rapid Offensive Unit. Even--"
"But I'm demilitarized!"
"Even without your principal armament, I bet you could waste planets if you wanted to--"
"Aw, come on; any silly GCU can do that!"
"So what is all this shit for?" She shook the furry little remote drone, quite hard. Its teeth chattered.
"It's for a laugh!" it cried [...] then opened its big eyes wide and looked hopefully at her. "Cuddle?"
"Cuddle." Sma cuddled it, patted its back.
She turned to see Skaffen-Amtiskaw lying dramatically on its back in midair, its aura field flashing the lurid orange that was used to signal Sick Drone in Extreme Distress. (74)
He fried a knife missile in an MRI? Love it. (86)
"Come on, drone; it's meant to be fancy dress. But try something a little more imaginative than a warship this time."
"Hmm," said the machine. "Any suggestions?"
"I don't know," Sma sighed, "What would suit you? I mean what is the perfect role model for a cowardly lying patronizing hypocritical bastard with no trust in or respect for another person?"
There was a silence from behind as they approached the noise and light of the party. So she turned round and, instead of the drone, saw a classically proportioned, handsome, but somehow anonymous-looking young man following her down the corridor, his gaze just moving up from her behind to her eyes.
Sma laughed. "Yes, very good." (88)
He told her about a man, a warrior, who’d worked for the wizards doing things they could or would not bring themselves to do, and who eventually could work for them no more, because in the course of some driven, personal campaign to rid himself of a burden he would not admit to — and even the wizards had not discovered — he found, in the end, that he had only added to that weight, and his ability to bear was not without limit after all. (91)
Some fun ship names: "What Are the Civilian Applications?” and "Little Gravitas Indeed." (103)
"Given all the things Zakalwe’s done, just since we’ve known him, they’d have to invent a personal deity for him alone, to even start forgiving him.”
Sma turned away to look at the blank screen again. She shook her head and said quietly, “It doesn’t work that way, Skaffen-Amtiskaw.” Or any other way, the drone thought to itself, but didn’t say anything. (107)
"He’s trying to set up his own contact section!"
What, so it's only OK when the almighty Culture screws with other peoples' societies? (110)
“One,” she said, “don’t talk about human lives as though they’re just collateral.” She breathed deeply. “Two, remember the massacre, in the courtyard of that inn? she asked calmly. “The guys through the walls, and your knife missile let off the leash?” (113)
Everything was metaphor; all things were something other than themselves. (117)
"Nothing lasts forever, and amongst those exceptions, no work or thought of man is numbered." (144)
"You could not love what you fully understood. Love, she maintained, was a process, not a state. Held still, it withered." (148)
"You don’t even want to get old. Nothing more immature than that.” (171)
"So your stasis is your society, and mine . . . is my age. But we are both assured of death.” (171)
"He saw a chair, and a ship that was not a ship; he saw a man with two shadows, and he saw that which cannot be seen--a concept; the adaptive, self-seeking urge to survive, to bend everything that can be reached to that end, and to remove and to add and to smash and to create so that one particular collection of cells can go on, can move onwards and decide, and keeping moving and keeping deciding, knowing that — if nothing else — at least it lives.
And it had two shadows, it was two things: it was the need and it was the method. The need was obvious: to defeat what opposed its life. The method was that taking and bending of the materials and people to one purpose, the outlook that everything could be used in the fight; that nothing could be excluded, that everything was a weapon, and the ability to handle those weapons, to find them and choose which one to aim and fire; that talent, that ability, that use of weapons." (189)
"The man looked out of one eye he saw the woman change." (269)
"It was too much. It all meant too much to matter." (297)
"He enjoyed, though he was not always sure it was for the right reasons. But that did not matter to them. [...] He stood back from his life and was not ashamed. All he’d ever done was because there was something to be done. You used those weapons, whatever they might happen to be. Given a goal, or having thought up a goal, you had to aim for it, no matter what stood in your way. Even the Culture recognized that." (300)
"He loved the plasma rifle. He was an artist with it; he could paint pictures of destruction, compose symphonies of demolition, write elegies of annihilation, using that weapon." (307)
"The Culture may not be as disinterested as you imagine, and it claims?”
“No, it never occurred to me,” he said, though Beychae got the impression the man hadn’t really thought first before answering.
“They want other people to be like them, Cheradenine. [...] The Culture believes profoundly in machine sentience, so it thinks everybody ought to, but I think it also believes every civilization should be run by its machines. [...] Again, who is to say that is correct?" (311)
“People die; stars die; universes die. What is any achievement, however great it was, once time itself is dead?" (324)
"In Special Circumstances, and only ever know them as the great, irresistible force behind you; people like you and I are the edge; you will in time come to feel like a tooth on the biggest saw in the galaxy." (333)
"We don’t know that [we're doing good]; we think we’re right; we even think we can prove it, but we can never be sure; there are always arguments against us. There is no certainty; least of all in Special Circumstances, where the rules are different.” “I thought the rules were meant to be the same for everybody.” “They are. But in Special Circumstances we deal in the moral equivalent of black holes, where the normal laws — the rules of right and wrong that people imagine apply everywhere else in the universe — break down; beyond those metaphysical event horizons, there exist . . . special circumstances.” (337)
"Most people are not prepared to have their minds changed," he said. "And I think they know in their hearts that other people are just the same, and one of the reasons people become angry when they argue is that they realize just that, as they trot out their excuses. [...] I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you're supposed to argue about, come later. They're the least important part of belief. That's why you can destroy them, win the argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place." (416)
"Just because something does not have an ending," Ky shouted, "doesn't mean it doesn't have a..."
The man closed the elevator door, outside in the corridor; Ky rocked forward in the seat and watched the lift-level indicator ascend to the middle of the ship. "...conclusion," Ky said quietly. (423)
"Zakalwe, in all the human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this simple fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots." (433)
"Barter sister for sister?" (437)
...Or you could just allow her to make her own decisions, let her choose her fate rather than keep her as a possession, give her agency rather than treat her just as Elethiomel treats her sister?
"And always, whether they liked it or not, the civilians suffered too; the very people they both claimed to be fighting for made up perhaps the bulk of the casualties in their bloody struggle" (442)