The recipe for a modern masterpiece is a variable one, with many of the ingredients optional. Recently I discovered a little gem from the Michael Marshall Smith School of cookery. It went a little something like this:
Take one surreal, futuristic city, built in the wreckage of a five-mile square shopping-mall-airship. Blend with copious amounts of illegal, mind-altering substances. Gently fold in a network of villains with all the odds in their favour. Take one hero
– he should be morally challenged, confused, and fighting to exact vengeance
for the deaths of family members. Leave to expand. In a separate bowl introduce a cause – let’s say cloned children (Spares), retained as spare parts to mend the rich and generally mistreated. With great care add a pinch of danger – something unknown, possibly from the past, possibly with a mystical element which poses yet another challenge for the hero. These should be heated slowly in a saucepan along with several insane action sequences and horrors so shocking you almost (but not quite) have to put the book down, never to return. Throw everything into a dark, dubious-looking tin and decorate with an abundance of dry, sophisticated humour and sentient machinery with attitude problems!
The moral of this story is best summed up with the quote “Memories are nothing more than a book you’ve read and lost, not a bible for the rest of your life”. So basically, get with the program. This is the recurring theme in Jack Randall’s life. The moral only makes it into words at the end of the book and is significantly less important than the journey which precedes it. Spares is the story of Jack Randall, an ex-cop from a corrupted force with a growing trail of dead friends and family members. He doesn’t consider himself a safe man to know. After abandoning hope, Jack lands a job at a ‘Spares farm’ and succumbs to his drug addictions. He is woken from days of unconsciousness with an urge to takes his current position as caretaker one step further and gradually becomes a father-figure for the children. His caring approach leads him into several worlds of trouble and every man and his dog seems to want him dead.
Smith’s second novel Spares brought him fame, where his debut Only Forward brought him notoriety, and deservedly so. This is a phenomenal book, multi-layered, furiously paced and laugh-out-loud-funny. It is also deeply shocking, horrific and contains copious amounts of strong language. Historically sentient machinery is a safe bet – no self-respecting sci-fi series would be without the talking computer or automaton. Where Smith excels is in his ability to bestow futuristic advances on everyday objects (a fridge, an alarm clock) and he does so with a sly wit and an affectionate hand. This book is as entertaining as it is disturbing. It is a truly satisfying read.
Michael Marshall Smith’s new novel The Straw Men is set to be published at the end of July 2002 under the new name of Michael Marshall. For more information check his site: