'Spares' is without doubt one of my favourite novels, jostling for the top-spot only with William Gibson's seminal 'Neuromancer'. In three years I've read it twice and, once I get through all the 'perfect partners' I've picked up on Amazon, it's something I'll definitely read again. From the opening, one-word paragraph you can't help be hooked: a simple "Widescreen" and Smith has you. He won't let you go until the very end.
This is the story of Jack Randall, a man who has managed to destroy his life so completely that he's found himself stuck as the janitor of a Spare Farm. His wife and child have been murdered, girlfriend obliterated in a gang attack in the city of the New Richmond, his old home is a cesspool of people who want him dead. Or worse. But despite being a drug-idled, cheating, corrupt ex-cop and once an even more addicted soldier, Randall still has a heart: he lets the Spares out of their cages, starts teaching a group of them how to be 'human', as he sees it. Off the drugs, and with the help of Ratchet, a service droid and probably the most human character in this world, Randall decides to free the Spares... But someone has different ideas and Randall's road to salvation will take him deep into his own past, the past he's fought so long to avoid.
The structure and themes, Smith's insight and his wonderful sense of humour all bring to mind his debut 'Only Forwards', another great book. But it is still 'Spares' that strikes me as the better book: in 'Spares' Smith has allowed himself much greater scope to inflict his imagination on the world.
Smith's instinct for horror permeates greater than simple shocking scenes; he can invent concepts so frightening they can only be inevitable. At the Farm we are introduced to the Spares, cloned humans kept in caves without human contact - until the human they were cloned from has an accident and needs a replacement organ. On this level, the only work I can compare it to is Aldous Huxley's brilliant 'Brave New World'.
Even the city itself outlines Smith's vast, ironic imagination: a giant, flying shopping mall that landed one day, liked the view of the riot-torn Old Richmond and decided to stay. The description, outline in the prologue, sets the scene for a brilliant drawn new world that Smith knows intricately, setting scenes from the exhaust system of the old mall to the church the new city's most powerful citizen has built in honour of himself.
Plot, characters, pace, action, setting, themes... everything about this book is a genre-fiction readers wet dream - it's hard to imagine how it can ever be out-done and like 'Neuromancer' it probably never will be. It's hard to understand why Steven Spielberg opted to make 'Minor Report' when he had this on his desk, but perhaps Tom Cruise wasn't happy playing a character as bad as Randall.
Buy it, read it, tell your friends to read it and a few strangers too. Then get Hollywood to make the movie, just so more people will read it.