Saturday, September 11, 2010

Against a Dark Background

Title: Against a Dark Background
Author: Iain M. Banks
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1993

Recommendation: Well written space opera slightly reminiscent of Firefly.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Lady Sharrow is a leader of a once-military team that re-assembled to help her escape the persecution by the Huhsz. The latter is a military religious order that is given a one year hunting license for Lady Sharrow, unless she can return to them the last Lazy Gun stolen 6 generations ago by her great-great-great-grandmother.

Reactions: I came across this book because Lady Sharrow was mentioned as one of the most memorable heroines and I decided to give it a try since I've heard of Iain M. Banks, but have never read any books by him previously.

Overall, there is a surprisingly poetic tone to the book. Banks inevitably spends the first page of every chapter describing the setting and the atmosphere. The language is well-used, but eventually I found myself skipping over the descriptive parts. Here's one such beginning:
The antique car hissed every now and again and leaked steam. Behind it, beyond the shells of the ruined warehouses, mists rose perpetually from the warm waters of the inlet, climbing and re-climbing the frost-gray planes of a lifeless sky. Thrial was a red fruit wrapped in tissues of mist.
The plot itself progressed pretty well. There were a number of dark and even depressing parts to the story, but there was plenty of upbeat action and dialogue as well. Banks deals very ruthlessly with some of the characters, but that only adds to the suspense of the book. Overall the plot flowed quite well, except perhaps for the ending which was rather abrupt and didn't tie up the story as well as I hoped.

Upon finishing the reading and searching the web, I found many other readers found the ending less than satisfactory as well and that an epilogue to the book has been published separately a year later. If you end up reading the novel, I also recommend reading this epilogue.

Lady Sharrow's character, as promised, was rather unique. She is the heroine of the book, but at the same time very flawed. It made her feel very realistic even if I didn't feel sympathetic with her all the time. Other characters were a pretty colorful set also. My favorite was an android named Feril who joins the crew later in the novel. Here's a sample of Sharrow's dialogue with Feril:
She put her hand out to the machine. "I hope you will not have cause to regret this," she said, smiling.
It gripped her hand gently. "Regret is for humans," it said.
She laughed. "Really?"
The machine shrugged and let go of her hand. "Oh, no. It's just something we tell ourselves."
Overall, it was a good read that I have enjoyed despite some slowness in parts of the book and a somewhat disappointing ending. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who likes these types of stories.

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