Against A Dark Background (1985) by Iain M. Banks
Trade, Orbit, 487 pp.
Iain Banks delivers a solid and amazing sci-fi novel once again. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I think this is his best and most accessible book that I have read so far.
The Lady Sharrow lives in isolation on a planet called Golter. She is the last of her bloodline and has retired from a martial life where she was neurologically bonded to a team of fellow soldiers. She hears that a strange religious cult, the Huhsz, have applied for and have obtained a hunting passport to kill her believing that wiping out her line will allow the messiah to be born.
Sharrow must flee for her life and reconnect with her former group in an attempt to avoid the Huhsz and to try and obtain a series of artifacts which may allow her to buy her way out of the death sentence. The group travels to various locations both on and offworld in a series of quests with the ultimate goal of obtaining the Lazy Gun. This artifact perfectly illustrates Banks' merging of interesting sci-fi concepts and intelligent humor.
"The eight Lazy Guns were mysterious ancient objects, discovered together a long time before the events of the book.
A Lazy Gun is roughly half a metre long, 30 cm wide and 20 cm tall. On the front are two short cylinders that end in black lenses. A sight extends from the main body, as do two hand grips. A metallic strap allows the Lazy Gun to be fired from the waist. On one hand grip is a zoom control and on the other grip is a trigger mechanism. The Lazy gun is massy but light, and weighs three times as much when turned upside down. The Lazy Gun is the only weapon known to display a sense of humour.
To fire the Lazy Gun, it is pointed at the target, zoomed in, and then the trigger is pulled. What happens next is unpredictable. When fired at humans, many different things may occur. An anchor may appear above the person, giant electrodes may appear on either side of the target and electrocute them or an animal may tear their throat out. Larger targets such as tanks or ships may suffer tidal waves, implosion, explosion, sudden lava flows or just disappear. When fired at cities and other such targets, thermonuclear explosions are the norm, although in one instance a comet crashed into the city.The eight Lazy Guns were mysterious ancient objects, discovered together a long time before the events of the book."
The best thing about this book is that it has such a range of well written and cool set pieces. A train robbery, strange massive organic platetoids, androids, a jewel heist and many other situations all combine in an entertaining story. Highly recommended.