Having recently started to read Dungeon Crawler Carl (highly recommended, btw!), I've been reminded of a series I read a few decades back.

As is often the case, my memory is a bit fuzzy. But the basic gist was that there were a bunch of humans (and possibly an android?) in a spaceship, who were acting as the champions/pawns of a super-intelligent alien "gamesmaster", who'd been challenged by a younger member of the same species.

And naturally, the humans were all somewhat incompetent. Plus, there was some sort of prize for humanity - I think it was around whether or not we'd be allowed to leave our solar system/apply for intergalactic membership, or somesuch.

From what I recall, the challenger alien set up seemingly-impossible challenges for the humans to complete, and the gamesmaster did the usual "godlike" thing of setting up lots of little things, which would all come together in a spectacularly unlikely way to help them win the day.

And as might be expected from the setup, it was all in a British comedy sci-fi style, as per Douglas Adams/Robert Rankin/Jasper FForde.

E.g. a couple of bits I remember: One of the characters (who is a bit geeky) is dragged onto a gameshow, where he has to answer a question about the colour of his shipmate's underwear. Which he's able to answer - much to her angry indignation - because she'd taken a tumble earlier in the book.

Another challenge is set in greek mythology, where they meet Pasiphaë (who gave birth to the Minotaur in Greek mythology). She's presented as a pleasant but somewhat addled middle aged woman, who still loves the Cretan Bull and inteprets all of his moos as being an actual conversation. When the players leave the challenge, the bull moos, which she interprets as a come-on, and so goes off to change into her nightie...

If memory serves, this was all in the late 90s/early 00s and the second book ended on a cliffhanger. It'd be nice to find out if the series was ever completed!

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I can find surprisingly little information about it, but this makes me think of The Galaxy Game, by Phil Janes.

It's from 1993, which means it's been three decades since I read it; but as I recall, the premise is that Earth's first interstellar ship is waylaid by all-powerful aliens, who put the characters through a set of game-show like tests to decide whether humans should be allowed to survive.

There's three books (Galaxy Game / Fission Impossible / I, Arnold), and I think the third book hurriedly explains that the humans are through to the final round - I guess he was expecting it to be a longer-running series that the publishers pulled the plug on.

The other things I can remember (that you seem to have omitted) are that there's a ship's computer called Arnold, who (I think) becomes self-aware, and is rather unpleasant to deal with; and there's another human added to the crew, who comes from after the rest of the crew's time - she calls people Filthly Lucs, as a result of a shift in attitudes towards wealth.

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    Yes, this is definitely The Galaxy Game. Arnold is (or becomes, I think) an Android. And the details in the question match as well. I still have copies of the books. From memory the last one doesn’t really have a satisfactory ending either, I think there was definitely meant to be more. Oct 17, 2023 at 20:23
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    The underwear bit, and the Cretin Bull both appear to be from the second book Fission Impossible.
    – DavidW
    Oct 17, 2023 at 20:52
  • That does indeed sound like it - a few of the things you mentioned ring a bell! Part of the problem was that I read the second book first, so the strongest memories came from it - the joys of getting most of your reading material from charity shops and flea markets! It's a shame it sounds like the series was never properly finished off, but at least there's a bit more to read :)
    – Juice
    Oct 18, 2023 at 10:24

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