Against A Dark Background By Iain M. Banks

Against A Dark Background was the 5th novel of Scottish writer Iain M. Banks in the science-fiction genre.

This time, Banks leaves the comfort of The Culture for a whole new setting. It was published in 1993. Against a Dark Background was rewritten from an original work of 1975.

This is the 5th novel from Banks that I have read over a short period of time. Over the last week, I have also read Excession, Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games and The Algebraist.

This is a review of the science-fiction novel Against A Dark Background by Iain M. Banks. It does contain some spoilers.

I found this novel quite the page turner. Which is true for most of Banks’ novels. It was good to see him try another setting, different from The Culture. There are quite a few twists and turns in this novel, which keeps a good pace. It was funny to see that the protagonist kept getting kidnapped by various different factions.

The book is also filled with humor and levity from time to time.

This is what sets Banks apart from most science-fiction authors, to write humor and not make fun of the genre.

The technology is strange, but not as advanced as The Culture setting.

In the grand scope of things, Excession and The Algebraist remain my favorite until now.

* * * * *

This novel follows Lady Sharrow and her problems with the Cult of Huhsz. The Huhsz have a problem with Sharrow, as one of her ancestors stole something immensely valuable, the last Lazy Gun. In counterpart, the cult has declared that their Messiah can only be born once the female line of the Dascen family is extinguished. Its last surviving member is Sharrow, who can no longer bear any children.

The novel takes place in one solar system, Thrial and its planet Golter. It is isolated from the rest of the galaxy by a void.

Sharrow’s half sister Breyguhn is being held hostage in the Sea House by the Sad Brothers until they get the Universal Principles back, a unique book that has been lost. Sharrow is a retired thief and antiquities hunter, who disbanded her team not long ago.

She learns that the Huhsz have petitioned the World Court for Hunting Passports, that would allow them to kill her and her team legally. The Huhsz will stop their hunt if they get the Lazy Gun back. The Lazy Gun is a strange weapon of mass destruction, that uses humor while it destroys. There have only been eight made and this is the last surviving one. The device manipulates the quantum probabilities and integrates them into the current reality, finding interesting ways of killing its targets. It is very portable, 50cm x 30cm x 20cm. When pointed at larger things, most of the time it results in thermonuclear reactions to kill its targets.

Nevertheless, it is lost and the only way to find it is to find the Universal Principles. After much drama, Lady Sharrow delays the Huhsz by dropping the Hunting Passports into an old nuclear reactor to contaminate them because they can not be destroyed; they contain nano scale portable black holes. They destroy the first Huhsz team. They make it to an isolated city on Golter, Pharpech, where their clues tell them the book will be found.
On more than one occasion, her inept cousin Count Geis tries to help her, but Sharrow has a very low opinion of him and denigrates him at every turn, because he came between her and her sister, not that she particularly likes her half-sister anyway. Her cousin is extremely rich.

Lady Sharrow spends her time being manipulated by other factions who want the gun. She gets kidnapped by bounty hunters, people who want the gun and the Solipsists, a strange band of mercenaries who work for different factions during this book.

Needless to say, Lady Sharrow finds the Universal Principles but one of her team is killed along the way, and Breyguhn decides to stay as a guest of the Sad Brothers in captivity. Using the book, they are able to find the trace of the Lazy Gun and make their way there. On the way, most of her team is finished off by unknown parties. Feril an android joins her and is of an immense help in her quest. In a strange turn of events, the Huhsz are off her back and in trouble with the World Court.

Towards the end of the book, Sharrow is able to retake the Lazy Gun and take care of the person manipulating her since the beginning of the novel.

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