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Against a Dark Background

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  14,135 ratings  ·  412 reviews
She came from one of the more disreputable aristocratic families.

Sharrow was once the leader of a personality-attuned combat team in one of the sporadic little commercial wars in the civilization based around the planet Golter. On an island with a glass shore - relic of some even more ancient conflict - she discovers she is to be hunted by the Huhsz, a religious cult which
Paperback, 480 pages
Published 1993 by Orbit
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Dune by Frank HerbertEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Best Science Fiction
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Excellent Space Opera
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  14,135 ratings  ·  412 reviews

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Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
mark monday
Mar 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I love Iain M. Banks’ Science Fiction. I have half a bookshelf laden with his Culture novels, and just panning my eyes across them gives me faint hint of pleasure, the residue of the SF ecstasies I enjoyed while pawing through each one. I don’t love Against a Dark Background in the same way. I like it, it’s kind of engrossing, but it didn’t stir me like Banks’ other works.

The central character of Against a Dark Background is Sharrow, a noble in a distant future star system. Sharrow is the sworn
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
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.

Nov 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Peter Tillman
Banks' space operas repay rereading. For me, the second reading is usually better than the first. I wasn't bowled over by my first go at Against a Dark Background, but the second time really clicked. Except for his almost-obligatory Banks Tragic Ending, wherein Zefla -- and other characters I'd grown fond of (and some I hadn't) -- come to grief. Oh, weel -- lad's read his Shakespeare tragedies. Not to mention his European history.

2020 reread: I liked it less on this reread -- but it's still an
Paul E. Morph
Aug 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first Iain Banks novel since he passed away and I was concerned I'd be too upset to enjoy it fully... but figured it was time. I needn't have worried; this book is so much fun all thoughts of the author's sad passing were soon pushed to the back of my mind. I guess this is how writing can bestow a kind of immortality on an author.

While this is one of Banks' science fiction novels, it isn't part of his Culture series. This is a great little space opera/heist adventure/action
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"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
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  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
Sep 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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.
Nov 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
This is the second non-Culture but still Sci-Fi book from Iain M. Banks that I have read. Even though it is not set in the Culture Universe, the basic outline and tenets are the same regarding the Culture novels; sentient AI, Droids, obscure planets, high paced adventure (well, towards the last 120 pages it really starts to remind me of his first Culture novel- Consider Pheblas, but to get there I was beginning to get slightly 'bogged down', with the flashbacks that the main character, an ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: far-future, reviewed
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,
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 ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Kevin Kelsey
This is the eleventh Iain M. Banks novel I've read, and the first one that I've been disappointed by.

What a train wreck this novel is. It started out very strong, and then fell apart over and over again for the next ~550 pages or so. It had a few moments of brilliance, and some really great ideas (the solipsists especially were fantastic), but it just went on and on and on with diversions and then ended, never adequately pulling itself together.

If you're thinking of reading this, don't. Instead
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hard-sci-fi
Wow, what a roller coaster. This book has got it all. Thrills. Spills. Chills. Strong women characters. Exotic interstellar locales. Rabid psychotic religious cults. Sex. Tense heists. Double-crossing. Double-double-crossing. Chases. Quiet introspection. This is Banks, so a lot of wonderful dialogue. Sets so intricately woven together they must be re-read in order to re-appreciate. Colourful characters. Exotic beasts. A hefty brutality permeating the entire story; there are real consequences, ...more
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very, very good. It's less conceptual and more an adventure story than many of his other books - but it's a VERY good adventure story! Lots of action and violence, without neglecting depth of character & emotion.... very effective portrayal of a female protagonist by a male author too! (something I find is rather rare...)
T.L. Evans
Apr 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
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
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
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This is a book with a slow build. At first the world of Golter seems like it could be Earth, not too far in the future. But as we see more of Golter, and of the worlds in its stellar system, things just get weirder. Not just weirder though, but a regular warning of some futures to worry about. And Sharrow (and some of the other characters) also build as Banks interweaves backstory into the mainstory. I'm not sure if I ever will, but this would be a good book to reread. We learn so much about ...more
Nic Margett
The annual Banks re-reads continue!

I'd forgotten just how good this book was. A great and thrilling adventure with some superb world-building. It's easy to forget that Banks' SF output wasn't all just about the Culture, and I'd definitely class this as one of his finest works. I can see why he chose to write this one outside of the Culture, using aristocracy in place of utopianism gave the characters a necessary privilege, and the Lazy Gun stinks of Douglas Adams, which isn't really suitable for
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Great idea, lackluster character and execution, just like the other Culture books.
Daniel Kenefick
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not as refined as his other books, and bleak, but still quite good.
Stanislav  Kravchuk
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Nope, can't do it. I thought the overwhelming amount of names and detailed descriptions would fade, but it only increases. A simple action of the protagonist is accompanied by tons of unneeded info. After 5 pages you get lost and have to go back, to recall what happened before. And I can't say, that main story captivated me somehow...
Conclusion: I wouldn't recommend to read this story before the sleep - the book would last forever)))
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dedicated devotees of derring-do
Recommended to Alan by: Subsequent work
"Regret is for humans," it said.
1993's Against a Dark Background is a good, fat book—possibly the longest single work in Banks' science-fictional oeuvre, and one of the earlier novels credited to Banks-with-the-M. The particular copy I read came to me much more recently, though, from a Little Free Library kiosk very close to my house, and I'm kind of glad I came across this one only after having read a fair number of other Iain M. Banks novels. There's a lot going on here, and while this
Nov 27, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Dec 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
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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,
“Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying.” 230 likes
“People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it is. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped.” 56 likes
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