“ Author: Michael Marshall Smith „
Michael Marshall Smith
Michael Marshall Smith is a fantastic author and I put him inside my top ten of favourite writers. He started out writing Science fiction but these days is better known as Michael Marshall and the thriller novels he produces.
I have reviewed both genres of his books in the past, notably 'The Intruders' as Michael Marshall and 'Spares' as Michael Marshall Smith. I will talk about my favourite books later on in this review but first I would like to tell you a little about the man himself.
Michael is not an American like many people think and was born in Cheshire in England in 1947. To say he moved around a lot in his formative years would be like saying Mo Farah can run pretty well. When Michael was still a baby his family moved to the United States of America; to Illinois to be precise. Further changes in his parents jobs would see them set up house in Florida a year or two later. When Michael was just seven years old the family moved to South Africa and unbelievably, a few years later to Australia. In his teens the family would move again and Michael ended up back in dear old Blighty.
He did rather well at school and went onto Keys College in Cambridge. There he studied philosophy. It was here that he found he had a love for writing and got himself involved in various writing groups and projects, which included writing for radio. For these purpose he chose the pseudonym Michael Rutger. Under this name he went on to write successful shows for radio. A lot of the material he wrote was comedy but all through this period he would be flexing and developing his writing muscle and the young boy's imagination that had carried him across the globe was itching to break free and discover new worlds of his own creation.
Michael wrote many short stories and the first one he ever had published won him the British fantasy award in 1991. He continued to write for television and radio with some success but his real break as a writer came when his first novel 'Only Forward' was published in 1994 under his science fiction and horror writing name, Michael Marshall Smith. Only forward won him a few minor awards and more importantly, respect amongst the authors and fans of the science fiction genre.
His next book in 1996 was called 'Spares'. I have reviewed the book myself and read it recently. It saw Smith rise up the ranks of science fiction writers and placed him firmly at the top of the game. It was a popular book, so much so that Stephen Spielberg was rumoured to have purchased the film rights for DreamWorks. Robert De Niro was touted to play Jack Randall in the lead role but for one reason, or another, the movie never materialised. DreamWorks produced Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson in their movie 'The Island' and caused uproar amongst the fans and followers of Michael Marshall. They thought the plot too close to Spares and basically accused DreamWorks et al of stealing Smith's idea. Michael was a little more grounded in his response by not filing a law suit or suggesting that the movie was indeed his novel Spares.
Contrary to popular belief Michael Marshall has not dropped the 'Smith' from his name but adopted the shorter version for his thriller writing. It is a little similar to Iain M Banks, the Scottish science fiction writer, who writes thrillers or straight fiction as Iain Banks. Maybe he will add the Smith again when he writes his next science fiction novel and maybe he won't; only time will tell. The evidence from past ventures suggests that he will revert to Smith for his science fiction books as after he had written three thrillers as Michael Marshall he wrote his fourth science fiction novel and reverted to Michael Marshall Smith; but I am getting ahead of myself.
In 1998 he released his third science fiction effort in the form of 'One of Us'. The promotion for this book was quite unique in the fact that a small book of four stories called 'When God Lived in Kentish Town' was produced by WH Smiths and handed out across London's tube stations and at Heathrow airport. It was a way of getting 'One of Us' noticed and as a fan having one is a bonus as only five thousand of them were ever made. It must have worked because the book did very well, but then I suppose after the success of 'Only Forward' and 'Spares', it was always going too. No harm in a little self-promotion though I say and good on you Michael. Don't forget this was a long time before PDF formatted books or Kindles were available; you had to put some work in.
His next book was a collection of short stories called 'What you make it', which was published in 1999. I don't own this and have not read it so can't really comment that much on it. It was a successful collection and contained eighteen of Michael's short stories and seemed to have gone down well with fans. It was only available in the United Kingdom but would be repackaged years later with new additions to go on sale globally. Michael also produced a novella called 'Vaccinator' in 1999.
In 2001 he would produce another collection under Michael Marshall Smith called 'Cat Stories'. This is a highly sought after book amongst Smith fans as the original or initial print run was only 365 copies. It is a short book and contains only three stories. One of the stories is actually 'What you make it', the title story from his earlier collection. One is called 'Not Waving' and was previously published in 'A Twist in the Tale'. The third story is the gem as far as Smith fans are concerned and the reason the book is so sought after. It is called 'They Also Serve' and is a typical Michael Marshall Smith story.
2001 also saw him first drop the Smith from his name for a thriller project he was working on. The project was to be a trilogy of books and the first one was to be called 'The Straw Men'. There was already a book by the same name by an author named Martin J Smith. This was originally why Michael Marshall Smith became Michael Marshall, so there would be no confusion regarding the two novels. Smith actually liked the idea of writing as Michael Marshall for his thrillers and going back to adding Smith for his science fiction, so it stuck. The Straw Men was hugely successful thriller and you know you've made it when a quote on the back of your latest novel reads 'Brilliantly written and as scary as hell. A masterpiece'. It becomes even more of a compliment when that quote comes from Stephen King. The Straw Men is the tale of Ward Hopkins, a man whose life is turned upside down by the death of his parents and of a past so secret that even he can't quite work it out. He becomes involved with a reporter whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer two years earlier and is on the trail of the killer and another missing girl. Ward learns of a secret group called 'The Straw Men' and a sadistic killer known as The Upright Man. Ward begins to investigate his past and the murders. He is soon caught up in a world full of horrors, secrets and mysterious revelations. I thought that The Straw Men was terrific and it reminded me of a book that Thomas Harris would've written had he not written Silence of the Lambs or indeed any of the Lecter books. I could not wait to read the second instalment, 'The Lonely Dead' but would have to wait three more years.
The second Ward Hopkins book would be preceded by the revamped collection of short stories from 'What You Make It'. It would be called 'More Tomorrow & Other Stories' and was released in 2003.
In 2004 'The Lonely Dead' finally hit the shelves and I immediately purchased the hardback. I wasn't disappointed and the Ward Hopkins character was becoming a favourite of mine in fiction. I won't go into any detail as I don't want to give anything away from the first book and spoil it for anyone. The Lonely Dead was titled 'The Upright Man' for American audiences.
Thankfully, Michael Marshall fans, including myself, only had to wait a year for the conclusion. 'Blood of Angels' was released in 2005 and is the final book in the trilogy. It was well worth the wait and I loved it. I will read all three together again at some point in the future.
2006 saw Michael co-write on an animation horror flick for kids called 'Monstermania'.
2007 saw Michael add the Smith name again for a science fiction novel called 'The Servants'. This one would be different though as it was intended for the young adult market and tells the story of a young boy who moves from London to Brighton with some unusual results. It was nominated as a best novel in 2008 at the World fantasy Awards.
2007 also saw another Michael Marshall thriller named 'The Intruders'. I have also reviewed this book and enjoyed it thoroughly. In this novel we follow Jack Whalen, whose wife goes missing. He stumbles upon something more sinister than he could ever have imagined. The rumour mill was once again in motion for this book and this time it was reported that it would be turned into a BBC drama. These rumours started in 2009. It is another great novel and just shows us what a good writer Michael Marshall is.
In these last three years 2006-2008 Michael has been said to be working on a story which is being turned into a film. The story is called 'Hell Hath Enlarged Herself'. Michael is to co-write the script with two other writers and is also going to help produce the movie.
2009 saw a new novel amidst the rumours of 'The Intruders' is made into a TV series. This new novel was called 'Bad Things'. Three years previous, lawyer John Henderson watched his four-year-old son tumble from a jetty into the lake outside their Washington home. In a terrible instant, a life all too brief and innocent ended. But it wasn't drowning, the fall, or even some previously undetected internal defect that killed the little boy. Scott Henderson had simply, inexplicably...died. Today, John is a different man, having been through a divorce, living a solitary existence in a beach house in Oregon, working as a waiter in a restaurant that caters to the summer crowd. Withdrawn from a life and past too painful to revisit, he touches no one and no one touches him. Then one night he receives a short and profoundly disturbing e-mail message from a stranger. It reads: I know what happened. This book is a tale of need and of wanting to know the truth and whether or not you really want the answer. It is a psychological novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat and again proves that Michael Marshall is a master of his craft and I hope he keeps churning these babies out because I love them.
2011 sees the latest Michael Marshall book to date. 'Killer Move' is another psychological page turner and a must for any fan. Bill Moore is a man with a plan. He's got a lucrative job selling condos in the Florida Keys, a great marriage, and a beautiful house. He had a five year plan for world domination, too, but it's already creeping into year six...so now he's decided to mix it up - just a little. This means getting in tight with the people in power, the players who run the area like their personal kingdom. It's all going to plan until the day Bill gets to work to find a card left on his desk. It's black on both sides, just one word printed in white: MODIFIED. From that moment, Bill's life begins to change. At first barely noticeable, then in more and more disturbing ways. Bill soon finds out, in the most terrifying fashion, that he has become the subject of a dark and deadly game...and that he has no choice but to fight back.
One of things I love about Michael Marshall or indeed Michael Marshall Smith is the fact that all the stories, apart from having strong characters, can be related to and even though some of them are set in alternate realities they still ring true. I have always been a fan of his science fiction work but I have a penchant for his thrillers at the moment as they are full of twists and turns and questions. They make you think and they are also genuinely scary. Maybe not scary in a horror sense of the word but more in that psychological scared to death feeling that you can feel the characters go through. That's the beauty of a writer on top of his game; the characters are believable so you get scared with them as well as for them. I am a massive fan of this writer and I would recommend him to anyone. If you don't like science fiction then try the Michael Marshall thrillers as they are well worth a punt. I have never been disappointed by one of his books.
All of Michael's books can be picked up in any good bookstore or online stockist. You can pick up cheaper used versions for next to nothing on Amazon and eBay if that's your bag. Thanks for reading.
©Lee A Billingham
For those who are new to Michael Marshall Smith let me try to describe him to you in a way that does him justice. He is a British born writer who spent much of his young childhood in America, then South Africa and Australia before returning to England to finish his schooling and then study Philosophy and Social and Political Science at King's College, Cambridge. I first came across his work in a Dillons Bookstore 5 or 6 years ago. At the time he had only one novel, but as I was looking along the shelf something about the cover caught my eye - it looked like a quality cover. It had raised bits, for Christ's sake. The sort of cover that makes you think "Hey, a publisher would never put such time, effort and money into a book cover unless it's contents was really good?". So I picked up the book ("Only Forward") and the description on the cover was interesting enough to make me buy it. I was not disappointed. His second book "Spares" came out in 1996 and was such a hit that Dreamworks (Steven Spielberg's company) are making it into a film. Details of this are still sketchy but it has been suggested that it may be animated - which would possible suit the content of the book, but would maybe preclude the possibility of a being a massive special effects hit. "One Of Us" is his third book - first published in 1998. I have been trying to think of a way to encapsulate his stories - and there is only one word that springs to mind - 'Different'. His books are invariably set in the future, but they are not really sci-fi. They are funny, but not really comedy. His characters are easy to warm to - often the sort of rough-and-ready do-their-own-thing outside-the-law-but-with-good-cause loveable rogue that appeals to so many. His writing style is engaging and easy on the mind - no long drawn out prose or dull descriptive narrative here. He's found a nice
balance that tells you all you need to know, and keeps the story going. Another word now comes to mind - 'palatable' - his books are just immensely readable. He has also been involved in the production of a number of movie scripts, and at one time was working with Douglas Adams on a serialisation of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. This sadly fell through as a result of other commitments. Okay, so I think I've established that I'm a big fan, and that I would recommend you become one soon - because sometime in the future he is going to become a *very* popular author (particularly if the film is a hit) - try to get there before the bandwagon rolls into town. 'One Of Us' is in much the same vein as his previous two novels. The good thing is that each book is an entity in it's own right - there is absolutely no need to have read his previous novels (or the plethora of short stories he's produced) when you read this one. The lead character is Hap Thompson an ex-small-time-hood finally earning an almost-honest living after paying for the removal of a police file on an armed robbery gone wrong. He spends his time working for a company called REMtemp. They offer an outlawed service temporarily caretaking people's memories for them whenever they don't want them. For example, a cheating husband wants to forget about his dalliances for the duration of a romantic weekend with his wife. The process is simple. The customer transfers the memory in question to a host, who then walks around with it for a few days, before returning it. With current technology this is the only way to do it - the science is in it's infancy and all attempts to simply delete memories have failed - it seems that memories have to go somewhere, so even simply releasing it into the atmosphere will result in it attaching itself to a nearby person. Okay, so it sounds far-fetched, but Michael Marshall Smith
succeeds where I have probably failed - he makes it seem feasible- and more than acceptable in the context of the story. Hap gets tempted by a big payday, and does a foreigner for a client via an internet friend who lives almost exclusively in cyberspace (technology has now developed such that virtual reality can seem almost as real as life itself). However, things start to go wrong when the client disappears clearly intending to leave him with the disturbing memory. A memory which threatens to land him back in trouble with the law. As time passes he realises that there is something even more sinister at the back of his mind - something that piece by piece he is starting to recall. Unfortunately that is as much of the storyline as I can describe without ruining it's effectiveness. Gradually through the events of the story more and more information is revealed. It unravels like a classic mystery thriller allowing the user the opportunity to work things out themselves whilst including enough surprises and mysteries to keep you wondering until the end. Th science fiction element of the book supplies much of the humour but it is also used to great effect to give a slightly surreal feel to the whole thing - and it's hard to tell if the author is courting science fiction or actually ridiculing it. This means that it's an enjoyable read whether you love, hate or are indifferent to the sci-fi genre. You could take almost all of the sci-fi elements out of the book, and it would still be a great read. The best recommendation I can give to this book is to say that you are missing out if you don't read it. It's a thriller. It's a comedy. It's sci-fi. It's a perfect blend for those that either love all those genres, or haven't decided the best genre for them. If you do read it, you'll want to read his other books too. If you want to know more about Michael Marshall Smith then there are
a number of places you can visit on the web (thanks to these sites for much of the personal information): http://www.michaelmarshallsmith.com/ (official site) http://www-jcr.lmh.ox.ac.uk/~spacehog/mms/ (fan site) His new book, 'The Straw Men' is due for release in August 2002, and is expected to be a slightly more serious work, with more of a horror bias. 'One Of Us' is available online from amazon.co.uk or whsmith.co.uk priced £5.59, and over the counter at virtually all the large book outlets. Enjoy.
If you loved the inventivenes of Gibsons Neuromancer but weren't overly enamoured by his writing style then look no further than Malcom Marshall Smith. Not only are his books bursting with brillantly original ideas and predicitions for the near future, but equally as importantly, he writes in such an engaging, emotive manner that the reader cannot but help be drawn into MMS's future world of technoloical hi jinks. MMS manages to combine humour, technology, religion and love into a thoroughly readable thriller that leaves the reader desperate for more. If you try only one new author this year than I couldn't recommend Malcom Marshal Smith enough