Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks


Okay. This is a sci-fi epic from the late, great Ian M. Banks who brought us the outstanding Culture series. This isn’t one of those, but the style is not all that dissimilar.

Against a Dark Background

Against a Dark Background tells the story of Lady Sharrow: ex-soldier, and current aristocratic who’s fallen on hard times. To make matters worse, a fanatical religious order has put a bounty on her head. To escape the bounty, Sharrow embarks to n a planetary-spanning quest to find an incredibly strange and destructive artefact know as the Lazy Gun.

As a huge fan of Banks’s work, I have to say I found this one a little bit disappointing (probably because I’ve been spoiled by reading the entire Culture series). It’s a long book and is, unfortunately, very heavy on the prose, jumping back into Sharrow’s past and then forward to the present. (It does this a lot, and the transitions vary from adequate to clumsy.)

The characterisations are excellent, though I felt that Sharrow herself was a little bit … two- dimensional, while some of her companions on the quest also struck me as flat and. A little bit superfluous.

But when it comes to world-building, no one does it better. Whichever planet Sharrow found herself on, Banks weaved a rich tapestry of people, culture and scenery that was very much in line with his better works.

In the end though, I found Against a Dark Background mildly enjoyable, but far too long. Far too long for a single quest, perhaps (though the Lazy Gun itself was an intriguing weapon). A bit more editing, maybe; I don’t know, but this wasn’t one of his more enjoyable pieces – not for me, anyway.

Join in…