Friday, March 20, 2009

Iain M. Banks - Against A Dark Background

Iain M. Banks' Against A Dark Background is perhaps his most militaristic novel. It's heroine Lady Sharrow begins the novel living in exile. The Huhsz, a merciless religous cult, believe that the coming of the messiah cannot take place until her bloodline is ended, and Sharrow begins a long, complex and winding quest to find the last "Lazy Gun", the only prize that will buy her enough credit with the corrupt Huhsz to escape her inevitable murder by them.

Sharrow assembles a gang of friends and former comrades, who used to steal antiques and relics with her, and they begin to follow a series of increasingly bizarre clues to the location of the Lazy Gun. Several of the clues are genetic - in one case, contact with Sharrow's blood leads a local aristocrat to dance in a seemingly random way, until his heart stops. Later mapping of his dance route, reveals the next stage of the quest.

Against A Dark Background is also very concerned with technical and scientific aspects of Sharrow's career and planetary life. Detailed descriptions occur of her weapons. Here's Sharrow buying a replacement gun, a heavy duty weapon known as a HandCannon, from a shopkeeper who makes the mistake of trying to sell her a more ladylike weapon;

"And a HandCannon, with the eighty-mill silencer, five GP clips, three six-five AP/wire-flechettes clips, two bipropellant HE clips, and a Special Projectile Pack if you have one -- the one with the embedding rounds, not the signalers. I assume the night-sight on this toy is compatible?"

Being a Banks' novel though, the book isn't short on interesting social commentary and details of everyday life. Nor is it afraid of pointing out the differences in life for the adventurous Sharrow and the ordinary people of the planet who have, it seems suffered through a series of violent civil wars and religous crusades.

In the end though, the novel boils down to an exciting chase and battle. On the one side Sharrow is the last of her small band, with a loyal android for assistance. On the other, the evil and tyrannical figure who would destroy the planets way of life for good. In someways there are many cliches, but Banks does it with such stlye that he can be forgiven for this. Standing alone from the Culture novels, this is certainly not just a read for hardcore Banks' fans, but it's one that will entertain all lovers of Science Fiction.

Related Reviews

Iain M. Banks - Matter

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