Reading: Iain M. Banks — Against a Dark Background

The original cover I read this in was the dark and gloomy one with the rear-end of the mono-wheel ‘bike tooling its way along a horizon-foreshortened arc of black cobblestone road towards a silhouetted castle, itself merging past the burnt orange into further blackness of the sky above, from which, in cover-filling type, “Iain M. Banks” in stark white jutted. My memory of Against a Dark Background, one of the very first I read of him I think in early-2004, is of this bleak, heavy and oppressive miasma the cover so clearly evokes. It’s one of his darkest works, not like say, Complicity, which leans towards more disturbed and blackly humorous, it’s simply quite grim, hopeless, and almost nihilistic; or at least that’s how I remember it.

It’s also one of the very few of the darling Banks which I don’t have on my shelves, and so rectifying this, I picked it up late last week. Different cover, the more recent reprint designs, thankfully keeping that horrible burnt orange, the overcast colour of bush fires. I have only scattered recollections of this, the heist in the city of junked ships, the monastery castle with its system of chains on rails, the country mansion and landscape which recur in other non-skiffy fiction of his, The Crow Road, The Steep Approach to Garbadale, and of course the Lazy Guns.