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Against a Dark Background

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  9,339 ratings  ·  270 reviews
Alternate cover edition for ISBN 9781857231793
Sharrow was once the leader of a personality-attuned combat team in one of the sporadic little commercial wars in the civilisation based around the planet Golter. Now she is hunted by the Huhsz, a religious cult which believes that she is the last obstacle before the faith's apotheosis, and her only hope of escape is to find t
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Paperback, 487 pages
Published 2001 by Orbit (first published 1993)
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Brad
Iain M. Banks has something prophetic in mind in "Against a Dark Background," but it may have been a bit too subtle for most of the critics to get.

Banks isn't writing a cheesy adventure story; he's not creating a science fiction galaxy for entertainment purposes; he's not playing around at all. He's offering us a warning of what's to come if we keep moving the way we are. He presents a galaxy full of technological wonders where thermonuclear war is tactical and a part of regular business, a gala
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mark monday
the only Iain Banks book (so far) that i couldn't finish. too shallow, too snarky, too full of confusing cyberbullshit. so many ideas (like that Lazy Gun) that seem brilliant but go nowhere. words can't express how disappointed i was with this one, it was like catching someone i worship in the middle of some brazen lie - a lie designed to dazzle its audience with a display of insouciant hipness. FAIL. but before you take this review seriously, you should also keep in mind that i am the kind of j ...more
Manny
Inspired by Brad's recent review of Night of the Living Trekkies, I'm going to present this one in checklist form. Here we go:

• Convoluted, non-linear exposition:
It's an Iain Banks. Enough said.

• Weird takes on religion:
He's so imaginative at this game. I loved the church who hate God, and insult Him instead of praying to Him. Almost as much fun as Luskentyrianism in Whit.

• Badass heroine:
Lady Sharrow could take on Lara Croft and Modesty Blaise together with one hand tied behind her back.
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notgettingenough
Let me preface slightly critical remarks by saying this is a hard-to-put-down thriller. His science fiction is so much better than his other stuff. Not for one moment do I have to consciously suspend disbelief. Never does he fall into this category which Randall puts so well that I'm just going to recyle his succinct observation yet again:



Banks makes up worlds, concepts, laws, forms of life, cultures and societies, he gives them all names and it all seems so natural. How splendid is that.

Again,
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Zach
This is easily my least favorite Banks novel, and the only one I seriously considered not finishing. There's a lot here to like, which is why it gets two stars and not one. But the good stuff is spread pretty thin, and on the balance it was just plain hard to read. Not "challenging," not "narratively dense," but hard to read. This book has a lot of problems from a formal perspective.

First and foremost, it's an action novel with frustratingly opaque descriptions of the action. It reminded me of C
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Rob
Mar 22, 2012 Rob rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rob by: Dave Howell
Until I get around to any kind of real review:

Fun science fiction "heist" story. My friend likened it to Neuromancer ("...but only because of they're both science fiction heist stories") but I thought it was more like The Sting with lasers.

It's Banks, but it's not a "Culture" novel. I haven't read enough of his Culture novels to know if this is a good thing or not. Golter (the main planet in the story) is said in the text to be more/less "orphaned" -- as though it's simply too far for in
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Simeon
Moments of brilliant oases amid a general drought. The first chapter alone is worth it. If you've read the book, make sure you also peruse the epilogue published separately online by Iain M. Banks, making the story's ending a lot more satisfying and less abrupt. Here's a link.
Psychophant
Another well remembered book that gets downgraded in a reread. It seems I look for something different than my young self.

This is a non-culture science fiction book, dealing with an isolated solar system that is not ours. There have been cycles of great technological advance and descents into barbarism. That serves as an excuse to introduce advanced technology in a magic-like way, so that the story reads more like fantasy than the usual Banks science fiction.

The biggest problem with this book, a
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T.L. Evans
Against a Dark Background was Iain M. Banks' fourth Science Fiction Novel, and his first not explicitly set in the Culture universe. It is a marvelously interesting read, with strangely dark humor and filled with wonders from Banks’ vivid imagination. While not as dark as The Use of Weapons or Complicity, it certainly has its fair share of grim humor and deep overtones.

The plot revolves around Lady Sharrow and her hunt for the last remaining Lazy Gun, the only weapon ever invented that demonstr
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Raj
Sharrow is being hunted by a religious order who are convinced that she must be killed in order to bring about the coming of their messiah. Her only hope is to find the last of the apocalyptically powerful Lazy Guns.

Although packed full of Banks' trademark huge ideas, this non-Culture novel fell entirely flat for me. I think it was that the pacing of the book was entirely wrong and it just felt plodding. Despite the fact that Sharrow was constantly on the run and being hunted, there was no sense
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Mike Moore
Finding this was a surprise, I had thought I had read all his Science Fiction. More of an single solar system bound fantasy rather than the galaxy crossing space opera he's put out of late, but always in his completely believable prose. This is the story of the Lady Sharrow and her pack of ultra high-tech urban warriors. She gets the mother of all contracts put out on her life and by the end of the story it seems like everyone's out to get her. Every good fantasy needs a quest, and in this one, ...more
Bearcatmark
Against a Dark Background is the first Banks book I have read outside of the culture series. Like all of Banks' work Against a Dark Background features his tremendously vivid prose (particularly in his action sequences) and the his consistently fun wit. Against A Dark Background follows the Lady Sharrow, a noble from a family that has lost much, on a series of adventures as she tries to keep herself alive and find different old antiquities. The plot is interesting and the universe is original, b ...more
Kolya Matteo
This may be my favorite book my Iain M. Banks. It's more fun to read than some, thanks to some larger-than-life Dickensian characters that leave lasting impressions: The blowhard old scholar Travapeth on Miykenns, the barbaric King Tard the 17th, the smugly ambitious bureaucrat Lebmellin, and above all, the solipsist Elson Roa. This kind of hamminess can be grating if done badly, but here it's a lot of fun. The main characters are, fittingly, more complex. Mr. Banks does a great job of letting y ...more
Caitlin
"Banks ain't kidding. He warned you up front this is a dark novel."- Norman Spinrad

I generally don't pay much attention to those back cover blurbs praising (or in the memorable case of Banks' The Wasp Factory, decrying) a book I'm reading, but this quote really stuck with me after reading Against a Dark Background. While I wouldn't necessarily call it darker than, say, Consider Phlebas, the dramatic shifts in tone Banks takes you through in this book were for me truly disarming. It's a book tha
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Mark
Reading Iain Banks often gives me the feeling that maybe I'm missing something sophisticated he is trying to do, but I'm never quite sure. Maybe I'm missing things in Against A Dark Background. But as far as I can tell, the book just doesn't work.

There are loads of technical quibbles I could make. (Flashbacks that are out of order, flashbacks that serve no purpose, people who randomly shift between being major and minor characters, cool characters that don't seem to serve any role, prominent SF
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Adam
Against a Dark Background is another wonderfully complex science fiction novel from Iain M Banks that combines Shakespeare tragedy, gritty cyberpunk thriller, treasure hunt, and comic picaresque. A rambling tour of fractured culture closer to Gibson and Sterling cyberpunk and Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius adventures than Banks’s usual milieu. His sense of absurd is as sharp as Schismatrix era Sterling and he is darker and funnier than Gibson. His culture (not the Culture though) is broken into abso ...more
Rachel Brown
This starts off promisingly, with a woman on the run and on a quest for a bizarre weapon called a Lazy Gun, but devolves from there.

All sorts of intriguing plot points are set up, such as the fact that Sharrow, the heroine, underwent a procedure to create a sort of psychic bond between herself and her military unit. Cool! Except that the nature of the bond is never made clear, and nothing in particular comes of it. This sets the tone for the whole book: neat ideas that are introduced, then neve
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Hazel
Dec 08, 2010 Hazel added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hazel by: Manny
Manny liked this, but I'm not sure. It opens like one of those action-adventure sci-fi movies that my husband loves; the ones I usually just sporadically glance at while reading something more interesting. :-)

A week or so later, and I have tried, but found myself skimming at chapter 4. That's a bad sign. The truth is I'm not the least bit interested in these characters or their world. Banks is an accomplished writer, and I wouldn't be surprised to find there's more to this story, but I'm afraid
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Clay
When it comes right down to it, the plot is an old-fashioned treasure hunt. To complicate things, the protagonist, Lady Sharrow, is being hunted down by the Huhsz, a religious order who believe that her death will allow the coming of their foretold messiah. Sharrow gathers her old team (from the Tax war) to help her look for the eighth and last remaining Lazy Gun, which is the only thing that could save her from the legal and sanctioned death sentence. The clues are followed, travel to other pla ...more
Erik
I think another reviewer said it best (gah, I want to use the correct "write it best" but it just doesn't work!) when they wrote this book is ideas over plot.

The ultimate failure of a book is when I can't finish it. I'm at page 330 of 600, and I fully expect to never make it to the end. In short, I'm just not interested. The characters are BLAH. In one of the main protagonist's opening scenes, she beats on a guy with whom she'd been having some sort of love affair who also has no chance of defen
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Colleen
The solar system where this takes place is so distant from the Culture it has not been contacted yet. The hero is female, and a fighter. The society is held together by a series of courts and laws that allow one party to sue another for grievances. She has been sued by a fanatical chruch so that she will find the only remaining Lazy Gun, a weapon of such danger that the last one she found blew up a whole city when the recipients tried to take it apart to see how it worked. Used by an individual ...more
Peter
Solid, very good read.: Against a dark Background indeed, certainly, this is not a novel in which the content is light and entirely pleasant. That however is not to say that this is an entirely enjoyable read, that said it is one of the most saddening and emotional of the novels by Banks that I have come across, but despite this, it is also one of the best.

This is a slow starting novel, but once it picks up speed it becomes a truly absorbing tale to which one can become enthralled, I myself rea
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David
Iain M. Banks' "Against a Dark Background" is certainly not a happy book. It's filled with nasty people doing nasty things to other nasty people on a nasty world. So, right there, that doesn't put it up there with my favorites. But, dragging it down even more is all the background information Banks includes. Yes. I'm pretty sure a good chunk of that is needed. But, for some reason, the constant flashbacks for background just slow the plot progress down to a crawl. It's an interesting conundrum. ...more
Nick
Aristocrat searches for mythical MacGuffin while hunted by zealots who believe her death will allow for the return of their messiah.

Even Banks's best sci-fi novels are a lovable mess, and this isn't one of his best. Somewhere inside this 500-page book, there's a much more entertaining 250-page book struggling to get out. There are too many unnecessary and under-developed subplots and story elements; entire chapters could usefully have been edited out, especially early on. The stock cartoonish ad
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Peter Auber
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Craig
I found this quite hard going. I didn't remember a thing about from first reading it a few years back (probably a decade ago) and perhaps this reading confirms that this is not Banks' best, in my opinion.

I think this was his first non-Culture SF book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but takes a little getting used to. I can't really put my finger on what didn't click for me - it may just have been that I didn't dedicate enough time to each sitting to become absorbed - but this soon became a
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Nuru
The ideal book for anyone who wants a literary cross between Life Of Brian & Indiana Jones. The main plot of the book concerning an aristocratic woman's chase for lost treasure as a bargaining chip to escape religious martyrdom is substantial on it's own, but it also seems to be an excuse (through satire) for Banks to explore a possible logical conclusion of what would happen in a world where churches & state really were one, in an aggressively polytheist society. Leading to some truly h ...more
Glen Engel-Cox
Surprisingly enough, this latest SF novel by Iain Banks reminded me as much of David Zindell's Neverness as of Banks' earlier SF. Maybe it's because I'd read Zindell's novel recently, and because Banks and Zindell are both writing "Space Opera" yet enlivening it with modern sensibility. Banks remains irrestiably readable, even when the novel is nothing more than an adventure novel with a few flourishes. Like Use of Weapons, Against a Dark Background centers around family relationships, moving pe ...more
Peter Bugaj
The author understands social interaction. I feel like his dialogues within the story itself where quite fun and interesting to follow along. But foremost, they felt very realistic.

His depiction of action however... is a different story. Perhaps I was expecting more. But I feel like there was very little going on, despite that the characters were always being chased after and on the run. Violence and brutality was happening, but for some reason it felt very shallow? Lacking the anxiety and drama
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Annise
One of Iain M Banks' non-Culture sci-fi novels, Against a Dark Background follows Sharrow, a member of an ex-military neuro-bonded team, who is being – legally – hunted by a cult that believes they must kill her to allow the birth of the messiah, and the only way to stop them is to find an immensely powerful weapon called the Lazy Gun. Sharrow is an excellent character, and her story, told in the story-present, and through flashbacks, is compelling and eminently readable. Moreover, Iain M Banks' ...more
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Iain Banks / Iain...: Against a Dark Background 1 14 Aug 14, 2012 01:08AM  
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Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
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More about Iain M. Banks...
Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) The Player of Games (Culture, #2) Use of Weapons (Culture, #3) Excession (Culture, #5) Surface Detail (Culture, #9)

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