on 8 September 2005
I'm not naturally a person that leaps easily to high praise or acclaim of a work of art, unless it is something special.
And this is more than that. This is in my mind one of the most understated and important novels of the last 15 years.
I also hate the usual cliches reviewers use when discussing a great book; "unputdownable" and " a real page turner" spring to mind. Yet this is a book where these cliches totally apply. As others have said, I lost sleep and missed a whole day of college to read this book. It was simply that fantastic, and I've never before or since been so entralled and captivated by a book.
Stark is a fantastic character and MMS is a master of the first person narrative. This book is also intensely funny, (you will laugh out loud), violent, beautiful, revalational, upsetting, and truely horrific. The ideas presented are phenomenal - mind boggolingly brilliant.
To describe this as Sci-fi is completely missing the point. The book is a hybrid of genres carefully woven into one another, encompassing, to name a few, elements of the Gothic, fantastical, satiric and horror traditions.
The writing is superb. Any criticism of clumsiness is misfounded. If it is ever clumsy, it is intentional to portraying Stark's human character. Re-read this and you will realise the writing is carefully crafted and beautifully sublime.
Plus, all the appliances talk! In one of the early chapters an elevator is said to be being treated by a "SWAT team of hydrolic psychotherapists" for "insinuating damaging things about the sexual proclivities of the building's interior designers..."!!
All I have to say is read this book. It will honestly immerse and affect you like no book has before!
Only Forward is a book full of ideas, humour and escapism. Its set in the future in the City which is split into different zones which each have their quirks (colour coded or based around business or any number of other quirks). Stark is the main character and he is handed a find and retrieve job that turns into something else.
The book as a whole is written in a first person narrative in a style which some might find annoying but I found engaging. Its got sci-fi idea's oozing from it and its a very smart main character who is almost too self acknowledging at times. However, this really is a brilliant book. The pace is fast and furious. The emotions all too human. It works because it is funny at times and yet always delivers a story and keeps that as its main focus. Its been likened to Douglas Adams and there are some similarities but maybe more with Dirk Gently and Hitch-hikers.
Only Forward is an absolute must for sci-fi lovers. It really delivers the ideas and story that keeps you engaged throughout. If only Michael Marshall Smith hadn't dropped the Smith and kept writing Sci-fi.
on 19 October 2007
Only Forward tells the story of Stark, all round nice guy and problem-solver extraordinaire. Stark is asked to locate a missing Actioneer, apparently kidnapped from the Action Centre, home to the sort of dynamic go-getters who'd think of a lifetimes indenture to McKinsey as a shortcut to heaven. Stark's mission takes him to Colour (where the dress code is time-dependent and rigorously enforced), Red (bring your CRUNT launcher), Stable, Turn, Fnaph, and many other of the eccentric Neighbourhoods making up his fractured home city.
Smith's language is superb, moving from witty dialogue to compelling descriptions of the increasingly disturbed landscape of the city and its dismal seashore `to muted colours and grey pebbles endlessly made cold by the ebb and flow of heavy water ... the place where it was most clearly dead because it was still there ...' Stark's life is beautifully and obliquely revealed as the book progresses.
Only Forward is by turns funny, exciting, thoughtful and, towards the end, sad and ironic. It is one of my favourite books, and I highly recommend it.
Michael Marshall Smith is a British author to treasure; a unique writer who combines humour with science fiction and - in this novel - pure adventure.
Comparisons with other authors are both trite and unecessary; no-one writes like Smith who started his creative career at Cambridge footlights, then writing for magazines and writing short stories before embarking on this incredible book. A story that draws you in and in turn provides humour, adventure, violence, love and freindship, dreams, zany futuristic talking machines (which leads back to humour) and cats. Cats are an important part of Smith's life and the sharply portrayed cat, Spangle, in this novel is the cat he wishes he had when he wrote the book.
The book bristles with imaginitive ideas about a future where the country is divided up into neighbourhoods where you go to live the lifestyle you want. A neighbourhood where no sound is allowed apart from one part of the day when everyone can scream their heads off; one where everyone is very busy and has to spend all their energy getting-things-done; one where violence reigns; one where colours are wild, vivid and the environment changes to reflect mood and clothing; one that is for cats.
It's a world that demands to be revisited. Once is not enough for this book. Do you yourself a favour, read this incredible adventure.
on 26 June 2000
This was my first MMS novel and convinced me to read everything he has written to date. The dialogue is quick and sharp, the characters gritty and well-relaised, the edginess apparent, but still unexpected when it grows and turns on you. Lock Stock & 2 Smoking Barrells, meets BladeRunner. I have not seen this stle in his other works, but this you BUY.
on 7 November 2012
Only Forward is semi-detective story set in the future where the world has been divided in to locked neighborhoods each with there own character. As the story develops it leaves this would behind and move into the dream world.
First of all let me say the I did enjoy this story. There are some great ideas in and some interesting twists that tie things together and there were some funny parts in the writing. There were, however, some regular things that irked me.
I think my biggest problem was that I liked the first half of the book when he is exploring the different parts of the world. It was an interesting future detective story in a great setting. Then he went into the dream world, which felt a bit predictable by comparison. I would rather have had more of the start.
I also got a bit annoyed at some of the "lies" that the narrator tells the reader. It seems these are used every time the writer wanted to change the story but couldn't be bothered going back to edit what came before and I felt a bit cheated.
There were loads of other minor things like overly convenient friends that are on hand to help likewise with some of his tools that he's luck to happen to have with him.
All that said, I'd still give it four stars. The world setting in the first half of the book deserves five, but the minor annoyances and the change of tone lost it a bit for me.
on 15 January 2005
A brilliant book. It starts out as a wiseguy version of Blade Runner, with the hero asked to track down a missing 'Actioner'. The first third of the book takes us through the various neighbourhoods of The City, each with its own peculiar rules and regulations.
The second part takes place in Jeamland, an otherworldly dimension where nothing is as it seems.
The big kick from MMS' writing is that it proceeds in one direction, then suckerpunches you by metamorphosing into something else entirely - by the time you get to the third and final part what you're left with is a sad exploration of love lost and found.
Only Forward is a treat for lover of good cinema. It's as though the Phillip Marlowe-style narrator of Blade Runner held your hand through a speeded-up showing of Donnie Darko and the film that The Beach should have been.
There are so many scenes in the book which cry out for filming: Stark on the beach, turning slowly against a camera pan to view the grey plain of Jeamland instead of the ocean; the rooftop rescue from Stable through a hail of weapon fire (and, yes, it's a hail that - unusually - is flying upward!); the flashbacks at the end ironically revealing the significance of the title.
Another review claims the juxtaposition of styles is uncomfortable and if I had to describe Only Forward in a single adjective, "uncomfortable" would be a great choice. But it's a discomfort to celebrate, a quite exquisite jumpiness from the awareness that this narrative really could go anywhere; will the next paragraph make you laugh, make you cry, make your heart quicken with excitement or your stomach sink in shock? The only certainty is that the next paragraph will make you think and - likely as not - make you want to read it out to your partner there and then.
It's the first MMS book I've read, and I bought it based on Amazon reviews. I finished it last night and just came on the site to order the rest of his books, but couldn't come here without saying thank you to the people whose glowing reviews brought me here last time. Thanks, people. You were absolutely right.
on 22 May 2001
I discovered Michael Marshall Smith a few years back and i have been singing his praise from the first few pages of this book. The reason i'm writing this review is to tell you that this book endures the test of time. I have trouble re-reading books, generally because i remember the plot so vividly. But this book has been read again, and again and again. Don't get me wrong, i'm not saying that the plot is easily forgotten, far from it, the plot is original and genuinely enthralling. It's just that i tend to get so lost in the rich narrative and the poignant moments that i simply do not care that i know what is about to happen. Rarely has a book moved me to tears, made me laugh and made me think, all in the same sentence.
The main character, Stark, is a wonder of creation. For once, here is a hero we can believe, a man with faults and a past, a man who will admit that he is not perfect, but has this amazing quality about him: you actually want to meet him! Smith has done such a great job of creating his characters that you honestly can associate with Stark and all the other gritty, realistic and beautiful little freaks that haunt his world.
If you need your sleep, DO NOT GET THIS BOOK. Because i assure you, if you start the book, you will not put it down and if you have to put it down you'll be thinking of ways to get back to it. It really is just that good.
I'd like to go into the plot in more depth but unfortunately it would be unfair. Too much to give away, too many secrets that i'm sure Stark would rather tell you yourself. Buy the book, get to know Stark and have fun. Then read it a second time and fall in love all over again.
And if you're wondering, yes the other books are just as good. Michael Marshall Smith is one of the best authors we have today. A gifted, imaginative and above all, entertaining writer who will surely bring mush happiness and many sleepless nights to many more people. All i can say is, roll on 'Straw Men'!!
on 15 September 2011
Reading a couple of the negative reviews for this book, the common complaint seems to be that its more obviously sci-fi elements, like the Neighbourhoods, were not developed to the readers' content. Sure, it would have been easy for Smith to fill a few pages with arbitrary, Harry Potter-esque 'look at all these creative, exciting new things I've managed to dream up!!' description, but that isn't the *point* of the book.
As it is, he's restrained: we are treated to new elements only as far as they are actually relevant to the narrative - sometimes this will only be a passing or enigmatic refererence - as with the Turn Neighbourhood, for example - and this is *ok*. It's intriguing that way. More importantly, the book has far more to say than staying strictly within these fantasy realms would permit. Don't get me wrong: I love all this future stuff, and his are fascinating concepts, but the finest, the most poignant and emotive parts of the book are those that transcend all that - the ones that deal with the human condition: love, dreams, childhood; especially love.
All this said, I didn't know whether I would enjoy it at first: the main character is initially sort of sardonic and self-congratulatory (and does so with an annoyingly nineties vernacular), which tends to grate, although there are still some lines of brilliance - "I look like the kind of guy who pimps his sister not just for the money but because he hates her." Gradually, though, the cracks appear in this front; the 'attitude' falls away, and we're left with some of the most touching, real and thought-provoking ideas I've ever come across in literature. And it takes you all by surprise, because you were expecting a straightforward fantasy story.