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]

The main protagonist is Lady Sharrow, a former pilot and antiquities thief. She lives on Golter, a planet in a solar system isolated from surrounding Galaxies. A cult named the Huhsz is granted permission to assassinate her, believing that their messiah can not be born until the end of her family's female bloodline. She is forced to choose between going into hiding for a year or recovering the last Lazy Gun, an ancient weapon of mass destruction that was stolen from the cult by her ancestor.

Sharrow rejects an offer of help from her cousin Geiss, a wealthy industrialist and businessman, and resolves to recover the Lazy Gun. In order to do this, she must first find the Universal Principles, a long lost book that is rumoured to contain a clue to the Gun's hiding place. She visits her half sister Breyghun who is being held prisoner in the Seahouse, a monastery run by the Sad Brothers. Breyghun tells her that their grandfather Gorko, who collected rare artifacts, encoded information regarding its location in the DNA of his servants. Sharrow recruits the surviving members of her old combat unit and sets out to make contact with the son of Gorko's butler. During these events, Sharrow is menaced by two unidentified bald headed clones, who have the ability to inflict pain on her via a military virus embedded in her nervous system. They demand that when she find the Gun, it is turned over to them and not the Huhsz.

Sharrow and her team follow the trail left by Gorko and recover the Universal Principles. The book has long since turned to dust, but the case contains a quotation, that is also inscribed on Gorko's tomb. Sharrow visits the storage facility where the tomb is kept and finds a device that provides them with co-ordinates deep in an embargoed zone that is presumed to be location of the Lazy Gun. The team are joined by an android named Feril and set out to retrieve it. After disembarking from the submarine they hired, they are attacked first by air and then by ground troops. During these encounters, her team are killed one by one and Sharrow is wounded. Sharrow and Feril find a small tower which contains both the Gun and numerous other pieces of ancient technology. After leaving the tower, Sharrow is immobilized by the virus and the clones appear, confiscate the Gun and take them both prisoner.

They are conveyed to a desert stronghold and are presented to a man named Molgarin, who claims to be immortal. The fortress is attacked, by two forces including the Hushz. In the confusion, Sharrow is able to kill the clones escape, using a monowheeled tank that was found along the Lazy Gun and after realising that the first force contained members of the Sad Brothers, she and Feril head for the Seahouse taking the Lazy Gun with them. They arrive and discover that her cousin Geiss has been behind events, acting out of an unrequited love for Sharrow and a desire to engineer political change within the system. Molgarin was just an actor employed to try and make Sharrow feel gratitude towards Geiss. The Lazy Gun begins to fire uncontrollably and the Seahouse is destroyed, with Feril inside it. In the confusion, Sharrow kills first her half sister Breyghun and then Geiss before leaving in the tank, self-identifying with the Lazy Gun and the destruction that it brings.


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]


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]