Skip to main content

Spares by Michael Marshall Smith

Terror, and relief; relief and terror,
so intermingled that they feel like
the same thought.
I'm having a great time reassembling my lost library, re-reading books I once thought I'd consumed and therefore to which I might justifiably never return. It's great! Next up, in case you're wondering, will be Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut (not that I'd lost it, just that I reallyreallyreally want to read it again, having been a whole 10 years since his untimely death). 

Michael Marshall Smith (or Michael Marshall when he writes out-and-out horror/thriller titles) is a British writer who brings to mind the work of his contemporary sci-fi & etc. novelist Jeff Noon. His first book was Only Forward (on my To Re-Read list for sure) which with the talking appliances originally made me think of Rogue Trooper in 2000AD comics, and got me into slick, quick, character and plot-driven sci-fi back in the late 1990s. Wait, or was that One Of Us? Bah, who cares.

Spares is set in a dystopian American future (one assumes) where the rich can grow spare bodies for harvesting in the event of tragedy and trauma to their own, where MegaMalls fly through the sky and where we find Jack Randall, a retired detective and former Bright Eyes soldier, in charge of one of the spares farms, who after an accidental overdose becomes acutely aware of the horror of his existence and vows to not only save the spares but eventually to avenge the death of his wife and child. That's a lot of back story to drip feed throughout a book that also races forward to a violent end via a parallel dimension known as The Gap (no relation to the clothing store I would hope). The Gap itself made me think of William Gibson's Neuromancer and his virtual environment, but in this it's more of an in-between place, somewhere the lost things of this dimension slipped into, and where in the narrative history of Spares Jack Randall had been sent to fight the inhabitants, wraiths, ghosts, trees and leaves, empty villages and deadly miasmata, and where he first becomes addicted to the drugs that nearly kill him later but kept him alive in-country. Anyway, it never intrudes, only adding to the deepening mystery and it remains unresolved throughout until the surprising denouement which ties it all together, skillfully if a little too happily for those of us expecting a tragic ending. And it's a damned fine example of story telling.

I watched for a decade or so for the optioned film version of Spares to hit the cinemas, but Dreamworks' rights lapsed. They then turned out The Island which bears some suspicious similarities and which was wholly underwhelming IMHO. But it never reaches the moral horror and casual brutality of the novel on which they presumably based their watered-down (and not in a good, understated Kazuo-Ishiguro Never Let Me Go way) version. It's a hard read in places, presaging his future horror/thriller work, but eminently worthwhile.

   

Comments

How's about that then?

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon

Consider if you will that the world was still recovering from what was to them then the Great War, the single most pointless and bloody conflict that man had ever seen. 16 million lives, both combatant and civilian, were lost, and families were indelibly marked for generations to come. So, if, at first, Stapledon's cosmological novel seems a little naive, or rather ridiculous, particularly with his predictions for the immediate political future of Europe, you might forgive him. He was, so I'm told, a committed Marxist and could see nothing good coming from the consumerist capitalism of America and its influence on the old world. In the foreword, Gregory Benford mentions that the unforgiving might like to skip to part five, so as to miss those parts to which one might take offence with the benefit of so stark a hindsight. Part five is where humans are almost totally killed off, for the first time of many.

For this book (novel would seem an odd description given it has no central…

Annihilation: Southern Reach Trilogy 1 by Jeff VanderMeer

Hereward: The Last Englishman by Peter Rex

By all accounts, Hereward was the guerrilla scourge of the invading Norman armies in eleventh century Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, famous for isolating and dismembering members of the Norman nobility who strayed too far from home, and also for trashing Peterborough and hiding on an island. Called variously (and often erroneously) The Wake, The Exile or The Outlaw, his infamy was such that families in search of noble English lineage have usurped his "heroism" for their own glory even until this very day. Rex delights in highlighting one author's particular folly, entitled Hereward, The Saxon Patriot, in which Lieutenant-General Harward attempts to run his antecedents right back to the loins of the eponymous gentleman-rogue. 

Having only read the introduction to Peter Rex's myth-busting (and often ill-edited) work, I was already struck by an initial thought which ran thus: if as Rex asserts Hereward was the son of Asketil Tokison, a descendant of a wealthy Danish family …

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

The first bad thing I might say about Engleby is that for some reason, it put me in a foul mood; as if by some sort of literary osmosis I had absorbed Michael Engleby’s uniformly critical point of view and had turned it on the world and my unsuspecting wife particularly. She was not a happy bunny. The first good thing I might say is that this didn’t last long, especially as the next book I picked up was a Charles Portis novel which quickly dispelled the gloom. Is this a triumph of the suspension of disbelief, of verisimilitude, of getting the reader to buy into the character? Or is it simply because the only point of view we get for 350 pages is that of “Toilet” Engleby himself? It’s hard not to warm to him even if you don’t like him or his fairly stiff opinions, and that must be a victory for Faulks. His protagonist protests that his memory is spotty – spotty enough that the major crisis in the novel is not really uncovered (officially – the twist was so obvious I guessed it from read…