Banks’ first science-fictional excursion outside the Culture, but we are on familiar territory here. It is his trademark mix of exotic environments, intrigue, extreme violence, clever technology, strange societies, governments and cults and lots of whizzing around in oddball transport. The characters are fairly well fleshed out, and the whole thing races along at a fair pace.
Some commentators have said that the Culture is somewhere in the background, though I couldn’t see any sign of it. Banks gives a very good sense of the age of the civilisation of Golter, with its periodic rises and falls of societies; and he hides a few interesting clues about how this world and its inhabitants differs from ours. The ‘dark background’ of the title refers to Golter’s isolation in a region of space with no other star systems within easy reach.
Overall, a fun read (until the end – [nearly] All Die. O the embarrassment), though it might as well have been a Culture novel for all the difference not setting it within the Culture made.