Against a Dark Background

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Against a Dark Background
Author Iain M. Banks
Country Scotland
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Orbit Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 487 pp
ISBN 1-85723-179-1
OCLC 32014520
Preceded by The Crow Road
Followed by Complicity

Against a Dark Background is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 1993. It was his first science fiction novel not to be based or set in the Culture.

Plot summary[edit]

Lady Sharrow, a former pilot and antiquities thief, lives in exile on a planet called Golter. An eccentric cult, the Huhsz, believes that the messiah can not be born until the end of her bloodline. The only way to escape their hunting passport lies in the recovery of the last Lazy Gun – an ancient weapon which has a surreal and humorous approach to death.

Sharrow, who as a child narrowly survived the assassination of her mother, joins up with her former combat team on a series of quests. The group locate a number of Antiquities – including the Crownstar Addendum, one of the most valuable pieces of jewelry in the star system, and the Universal Principles, an ancient book – on the way to the final quest for the last Lazy Gun.

Lazy Guns[edit]

The eight Lazy Guns were mysterious ancient objects, discovered together a long time before the events of the book. A Lazy Gun is roughly half a metre long, 30 cm wide and 20 cm tall. The Lazy Gun is "light but massy", and weighs three times as much when turned upside down. The Lazy Gun is the only weapon known to display a sense of humour. When fired, some calamity or cataclysm will befall the target on whatever scale is necessary to assure its destruction. The effect is random and in no way limited by its own implausibility, ranging from (for example) an inexplicable wild animal attack in the case of humans to a spontaneous cometary impact in the case of a city. In addition to being susceptible to ordinary damage, tampering with the Guns usually results in a mundane but profoundly powerful explosion that destroys the gun and everything in the vicinity.


Seven of the original eight Lazy Guns were destroyed before the events of Against a Dark Background. One disappeared with its user when he tried to fire it at the local sun, one suffered a lucky strike during an air raid, two self-destructed when investigators tried to take them apart and another was destroyed by an assassin. A sixth was destroyed when investigators fired it with its lenses looking through an electron microscope. The seventh, found before the events of the book by the Lady Sharrow and her team, was destroyed by the university it was sold to when they tampered with it. The resulting explosion devastated the city the university was located in.

The main plot of the story proper is the hunt for the eighth and final Lazy Gun. Much of the novel concerns Sharrow's adventures in searching for and acquiring it, motivated by the fact that the Huhsz religious cult regard it as a sacred object and if she can give it to them, their vendetta against her will lapse.

Sharrow encounters various political systems on her travels across Golter. She also meets the Solipsists, a gang of pirate mercenaries on a hovercraft, who hold very unusual philosophical beliefs.

When the last Lazy Gun is eventually discovered, it is guarded by an elaborate defense system incorporating a genetic key which Sharrow has to deactivate.


Against a Dark Background was rewritten from an original work of 1975. Banks said that it was the last of his old material that he had to rewrite.[1]

Banks wrote an epilogue to the book that did not appear with the published text, but is available separately online.[2][3]


Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks, London: Orbit, 1993, ISBN 1-85723-179-1 (UK) ISBN 0-553-29225-0 (US)


External links[edit]