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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 13 June 2000
My copy of this book is well worn; I no longer let it leave the house, despite the fact that I have found few people as fanatical about it. Why does it grab me so? The title says it all -- it is a true, dark piece of science fiction. Heros die. Love goes unrequited. Revenge is spiteful and slow in building. This is dark pathos woven in and around what could have been a very protected and innocent life. It is the tale of corruption, of loss, of bitter-sweet victories set against the near comic backdrop of desire, tragedy and a good-ole treasure hunt.
The fact that this is not a Culture novel is at the core of Banks' creativity. He has kept the scale within a solar system, invented from scratch the history, politics, religion, militia and sociology of a corner of the universe. That, in it's intimate nature, makes the story all the more believable.
Read this book many times. --->> Aim Here <<---
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VINE VOICEon 11 April 2007
'Against A Dark Background' is the tale of a woman forced to find a mythical reality-warping weapon before she can be executed by a crazed religious cult. Iain (M) Banks 4th science fiction novel is his first not to be set in his 'Culture' series of novels, though there are a few surface similarities with 'Consider Phlebas' as this is another novel featuring a group of trigger-happy mercenaries on the trail of a powerful artefact. Essentially a quest novel, 'Against a Dark Background' is full of striking science fiction imagery (city-sized plant-life; a monastery where the inhabitants are chained to the walls; a backwards God-hating society), compelling characters (particularly the heroine and her poisonous relationship with her half-sister, and a rather lovable robot who joins the adventure looking for new experiences), a twisty plot, and a suprising amount of humour. Unfortunately however it doesn't quite add up to a satisfactory whole, with the climax complete with a rather cheesy melodramatic villain and an over-complex plot, but for fans of well-written action-packed science fiction there is plenty of enjoyment to be had along the way. Slightly less than the sum of it's parts, this is an enjoyable tale but not quite up to Banks best work.
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on 5 June 2015
Most of Banks' SF work is set in the Culture, which made him famous. I realise this means I have bad taste, but I dislike most of those stories. One problem is that Banks' own prejudices are heavily to the fore: sex and drugs are good, religion, capitalism and blood sports are bad. The most egregious example is in "Surface Detail" where the villain is a capitalist who shoots birds from his limousine on the drive from his house, aids and abets religious cults, keeps slaves, mistreats women, and even cheats at games. I have the impression that he ought to be wearing a top hat and twirling a waxed moustache. The other difficulty is that the Culture is so powerful that they are always bound to win: they have faster spaceships, bigger guns and cleverer computers than everyone else, so they can outrun, outshoot and outthink any possible enemy. "Against a Dark Background" has nothing to do with the Culture, and Banks' protagonist is faced with a very different predicament: a powerful enemy is chasing her and she has on her side only a few friends and whatever she can find on the way. Unlike a Culture hero/ine, it is possible to believe she could be defeated - indeed, difficult to believe she could succeed, though she does in the end. There is still a bit of "drugs are good, religion is bad", but the reader is not beaten over the head with it. The world of Golter, which has been civilised for more than ten thousand years, is vividly described and has a lot of depth, but there is no sensation that Banks is saying "Here, look at all this stuff I worked out and have to cram into the story." I've read it twice now, and will read it again. I feel it would make a good film, certainly better than a lot of the rubbish which passes for SF in Hollywood these days.
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on 1 June 2015
It is debatable whether Iain M Banks 'Culture' civilisation provided a consistant framework upon which he hung his finely crafted stories, or was a straightjacket which restrained his imagination within set circles...whichever, his two non-Culture science fiction novels are absolutely superb and further increase my respect for this fine author. 'The Algebraist' and 'Against a Dark Background' are set in worlds of alternative technology, alternative that is to the beings who inhabit the Culture, and one can imagine drones, AI's and Minds reading them with interest. This is an excellent story missing the high moral tone of so many of Bank's books: it is an adventure story, a 'hunt for a missing artifact' story, with a few twists in the plot to keep the reader guessing. My only regret is that in this book Banks introduced some excellent characters and, spoilers, I won't write any more. I would suggest however that if you are contemplating this book, try reading a few of the Culture novels first. Because, quite simply "Against a Dark Background" will take your breath away.
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on 17 May 2016
Probably my favourite Iain M Banks novel - more accessible than his later works.

The 'Dark' in the book's title is reflected throughout the whole novel!

You don't have to be a science fiction nut (I'm not) to enjoy/appreciate this novel - this is a novel of human drama that explores many different aspects (though, mainly the darker sides) of humanity.

Well worth reading - it could be your best Kindle purchase this year.
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on 3 June 2012
I've always enjoyed this author and this book in particular, fantastic plot, characters and humour so I bought the Kindle version the other day. Someone from the publisher really should proof read it. For some reason random words get hyphenated on almost every page. It's enough to drive you to distraction. I myself have two Kindle books for sale as a self published author and have been criticised once for bad proofing and made every effort to sort it out. How come a mainstream publishing house can be so unprofessional??
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on 22 June 2013
(Rating for conversion only.)
Yet another sloppy text conversion job; it seems that all words split with hyphens in the original justified text still carry the hyphens even though they now appear in the middle of a line. This is not a hard thing to sort out, I could programme it myself. The publishers should show more embarrassment.
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on 5 September 2011
... the layout of the ebook is absolutely terrible.

Hyphenated words appear mid line for no app-are-nt rea-son, scene changes seem to happen as if by magic without new paragraphs and I swear that one section must be missing a paragraph (or even a page) as the plot inexplicably jumps from one section to a totally unrelated one without any obvious sign.

Please publishers, sort this out.
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on 9 February 2014
I've read all of Iain's Culture novels, but I missed this non-culture one first time round so I thought I would catch up with it on my Kindle, and I wasn't disappointed. It has all his invention and his usual fast moving plot with believable characters , as usual interspersed with flash-backs. I think the final chapter is one of his best ever.
The only annoyance with otherwise perfect formatting was that the soft hyphens from the book were left in - very sloppy.
Brian Price
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on 29 May 2015
This is Banks at his best. It's not part of the Culture series, but it has a lot of the same writing elements as the Culture books, without some of the downsides (ie. hamfisted philosophy). It's intelligent, thought-provoking, playful, and re-readable.
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