Spares was written way back before Michael Marshall dropped the Smith from his name, was just starting out as an author and was single-handily responsible for some of the best British sci-fi that had been seen in years! The third of his offerings after One Of Us and the ground-breaking Only Forward, Spares was a novel that redefined the term Cyberpunk and gave us something entirely different from anything we had seen before. Part comedy, part tragedy, part post-modern satire, Spares takes us on a dark journey into an all too believable future where cloning is commonplace and shopping malls are located in vast spaceships that can move about whenever the need arises......
Jack Randall is an ex-cop with a past. A former soldier, he managed to destroy his life through drink and drugs and has now ended up as a caretaker at one of many cloning farms all across the country. The clones are owned by the very rich and famous and, should anything happen to them, doctors come in the middle of the night and remove the appropriate organ or body part from the relevant clone ~ it is Randall's job merely to make sure they are kept fed and watered.
Only, as he begins to sober up and straighten out, Randall begins going outside his remit. He slowly begins to believe that the clones are not just eating, sleeping and defecating machines but people in their own right. And one night, he lets them all go.....
What follows is a gritty sci-fi thriller-noir, as Jack Randall returns to his old stomping ground, meets up with some old friends and attempts, for the first time in his life, to do the right thing.....unfortunately, taking the moral high ground isn't always that easy as Jack is about to find out....
Much as Iain M Banks writes both sci-fi and mainstream fiction, so too has Marshall in later years dropped the sci-fi element to his books and instead gone the more dark thriller route with stuff like The Straw Men trilogy and The Intruders. This, I believe, is to his detriment as he has never been as good a writer as he was at this stage in his career when Spares was released. His characterisation here is spot on, his plotting suitably dark and complex and the story moves at such a pace that, at times, it is almost impossible to keep up! Think the likes of Blade Runner here and you won't be far wrong!
This remains one of my favourite books of all time and, reading it again recently, I was reminded of just how good and relevant it still is today! It's dark themes of the more sinister side of cloning may only pay a small part in this novel but they help make it one of the most memorable sci-fi novels of my generation!
Michael Marshall Smith - Spares
Michael Marshall Smith or Michael Marshall, as he is known for his thriller novels, is a science-fiction writer with a difference who I have long admired. I have read many of his books and have had 'Spares' in my collection for a while but hadn't got around to reading it until recently. It was with great enthusiasm that I opened the book to the first page.
Spares is the story of Jack Randall. He's a burnt-out ex-cop with a recurring drug habit. After five years lying low, working on a spares farm, he is finally faced with a chance of redemption. The only problem is that the spares tagging along with him are now, along with Jack, fugitives after he broke them out of the farm. The story of spares is a breathless race through and strange and disturbing world that is close to our own and yet a million miles away. Spares is fiction, but only just.
What the critics said
''Comic, cruel, twisted and surreal'' - Empire
''Some books stretch the imagination. This one mugs it'' - David Baddiel
''A storytelling skill that can only be described as pure genius'' - Venue
''Tense, exciting and at times very funny'' - Time Out
''Smith masterfully moves the whodunit toward the future, opening up refreshing vistas for a genre rooted in the present'' - People Magazine
''Witty, hard-edged and coruscatingly imaginative...compellingly off-kilter'' - New Scientist
''Originality plus and a wicked flow of philosophical twists'' - Kirkus
''Compulsively readable'' - Publishers Weekly
Firstly, let me say that anyone who knows or has read Michael Marshall will know what an amazing writer he is. Like the Scottish writer, Iain Banks, he is a writer with an almost unrivalled imagination. He is also an excellent writer in terms of prose and intellect and he carries on with all those traits in 'Spares'.
The story begins with the enigmatic; love to hate lead character, Jack Randall, trying to buy himself back into his old neighbourhood, which to all intents and purposes is a floating metropolis that is lying motionless in the sky. The city within the metropolis, New Richmond, consists of different territories and the main living complex is a band of tall sky scrapers where the higher the floor you live on, the better off you are.
Jack has been away for over five years after retiring from his role as a policeman, believing there to be too much corruption in the force. He also had a bit of a problem with the local drug of choice, which is called rapt. This came about after he fought in a mystical place called the 'Gap', where soldiers took rapt to keep themselves from going crazy of dying of fear. For five years Jack has worked on a spares farm, a place where people's clones are manufactured and reared. The idea being that a person who needs a new arm or leg or an organ replacement, can go to the farm and get the replacement straight from their own clone. Jack however, builds up a relationship with some of the clones and believes they have a right to live. He breaks them out and the story becomes a fight to stay alive and save the clones. A friend is murdered and an old mafia boss comes looking for revenge and Jacks life is thrown into a nightmare akin to the gap.
I thought Jack Randall was fantastically drawn and he really is one of those characters that you are not sure whether you should like or not, at least not publicly. I loved him and thought he made a fantastic lead character. Some of the other characters are well drawn to and they all seem to fit and are not just thrown in to move the story along.
The world that Marshall has created is, again, so unreal but so believable and well thought out. Once you get the general feel of the place you feel as if it is as normal as normal can be.
The plot is rich with tension and high points and it is really well paced. I read it while on holiday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It moves along nicely and you don't get bogged down in detailed descriptions of the fantasy world it is set in. I would say it is a book that is best read in a few sittings. Putting this one down for three weeks on end might leave you having to back track to keep up with the story.
It really does make you wonder where the human race will end up when it comes to the taboo subject of cloning.
The book was originally going to be turned into a movie starring Robert De Niro but it never came to fruition, although the script is still floating about and the rumour mill still running on the fact that it may still be made at some point in the near future. I doubt that it will be De Niro in the lead role now though; more likely to be someone like Jason Statham. I would like to see Michael Fassbender do it personally.
Overall I thought it was a very entertaining read and I would recommend it to fans of Marshall and Iain Banks alike. As for fans of Iain M Banks (as he writes his science fiction) I would say that Spares is science fiction but with Marshall's thriller writing thrown into the mix; a science fiction thriller if you like.
I expect you've all seen the rating, and you may be wondering why it's only four stars. Well, it's quite simple. This book is very good, but I reckon Marshell-Smith's real Tour-de-Force is 'One of Us', so if I gave this five, I'd have to give that one six (and that's not possible). Anyway, on to the book. An excellent book, which is considerably darker than either 'Only Forwards' or 'One of Us', but not worse for it. In short, it deals with the hero's attempt to save several 'Spares' (human clones kept in appalling condition to provide transplant spares for the rich), and the fallout from a forgotten war in another dimension. Pretty weird, but extremely well written and paced. Oh, and I LOVE the funky MMS covers!
Those looking for a refreshing twist on the horror genre should start by looking at the work of the talented American author Poppy Z. Brite. (Pssst!This was the first opinion I wrote, and I've just realised I put it in the wrong fiction section! Doh! News about official website launch in 'update' bit...) She has often been (unfairly, I think) compared to Anne Rice.. probably because they both live in New Orleans and have written about vampires. Cast aside thoughts of frilly-shirt wearing vampires poncing about by candle-light, though, as Brite brings the subject bang up to date in her first novel: 'Lost Souls'. It's less garlic-holding and stake-twirling; more alcohol-swigging and eyeliner-wearing. Not so much coffins and castles as stolen cars and seedy clubs. Highly original and highly recommended! Brite's second novel, 'Drawing Blood', shows that she doesn't simply stick to a formula and churn it out like a factory product (unlike some authors I could mention!) In this story we delve into the world of cartoon artists and computer hackers facing the fears of their past and the terrors of the future. Brite explores what happens when fantasy and reality collide head on, and what happens when you can't escape from your nightmares. Amidst a thrilling, fast-paced plot she still manages to convey the beautiful, tender love story of the main characters. I must have read this book about ten times now, and it still remains fresh and makes me want to read it again... The last novel I will talk about here (for fear of rambling on about a subject I could talk about forever!) is 'Exquisite Corpse'. Of all Brite's work, this has provoked the most controversy to date. Brite takes the premise of two serial killers meeting and falling in love, and from there we spiral into a dizzying, beautifully realised yet grotesque world. Brite manages to elicit both sympathy and repulse from
the reader as we learn of their exploits and their flesh-sandwich eating escapades. It's pretty strong stuff, but then the subject matter warrants this approach - if you have ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a serial killer, you can't get much closer than reading this novel! Brite is a multi-talented author, bringing new ways of looking at the world and exploring our darkest fears and desires. She has two short story collections out: ‘Swamp Fetus’ and ‘Self Made Man’, and her latest novel, ‘Plastic Jesus’ (a Beatles-inspired murder story), will be released in the UK in October. For more information on this exciting author, take a look at her website (which she shares with two other American authors) Pandora Station: http://www.negia.net/~pandora/index.html ***Update*** Poppy has just finished her new official website: www.poppyzbrite.com - well worth checking out it includes her biography, published works to date lists, new pictures and some short stories not available anywhere else. Also worth considering is joining the newsgroup devoted to talking about Brite’s work and related topics: alt.books.poppy-z-brite - Poppy often drops in for a chat herself and it’s often the first place to learn of her newest releases or book-signing dates.
Micheal Marshall smith is one of my favourite authors, and this is what I consider to be probably his best book. Spares deals with all kinds of issues and notably dealt with cloning before it became the hot topic that it is today. This is not just a story about cloning however, it covers a wide range of topics. The story twists and turns keeping you guessing right up until the end. A great book, with some really imaginative writing
If you are looking for something different in a novel, if you are tired of working out the end before you get to page 24 then try Michael Marshall Smith. Anyone that has read any of his short stories knows he has a gift for writing fiction that really touches the line. Spares is no exception and takes a whole host of modern issues; cloning, class devision, the internet; and gives them a twist. This book is superb and completely original however not for the squemish.