on 13 November 2002
...I'm not kidding - I picked up a copy of Spares in a second hand bookshop a few years ago, thinking (from the blurb on the back) that it sounded like a good way to waste a couple of hours.
After reading this book I immediately went out and ordered 'Only Forward' and 'One of Us' (this was before MMS's books were readily available)
'Spares' is about a man (Jack Randall) trying to give a scrap of humanity to the Spares (clones of humans that can be harvested for spare parts should something happen to their real life counterparts) he is in charge of by introducing them to the real world and releasing them from the farm where they were kept. Jack Randall is a man trying to escape from his past, but ultimately ends up falling face first back into it.
Michael Marshall Smith creates a future world that is bizarre, but also, somehow believable - it all makes sense in some weird pseudo-science way, everything has a half plausible explanation.
I love this book because you can savour every line, there is something interesting in each and every sentence. I love the future world it creates, the character of Jack Randall - the way he thinks and talks and especially New Richmond.
You will not regret buying this book, I have lent my (now very battered) copy to several people who have immediately begged to borrow my other Michael Marshall Smith books or gone out to buy their own.
If you enjoy this book can I also suggest 'Only Forward' and 'One of Us' along with the book of short (and somewhat disturbing) stories 'What You Make It' all by Michael Marshall Smith.
on 6 October 2001
I enjoyed the first few pages of Spares more than any other begining to a book I have ever read. It draws the reader into the pace of the narrative and is then maintained for the rest of the book. Other reviews will tell you how great the plot is, which is undoubtedly true. It could be made into a great film although some of the sureal locations the text visit would probably end up being cut out of the script;a shame as they are hugely interesting places to visit in ones own imagination. The book is brimming with ideas that I would guess Michael had been incubating for years. Humorus and perverse scenes that make you grin to yourself give the reader a needed rest from the deeply disturbing main theme of the story. I first read Spares about three years ago and every advance I learn about in genetic engineering brings the warnings within this book back to my mind.There is a great deal of the author in the hero of the story, so if you have read other novels by Michael then reading Spares will give a good insight into his character (I used to know MMS quite well and I recognise much of him in the main character).Spares is a wonderful read that I would recommended to anyone because it is both easy to read and imaginatively stimulating. .....Great Science Fiction Chewie!!
on 22 August 2005
'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.
on 10 November 1998
Michael Marshall Smith is a great new writer with a very unique and invividual voice. Coming on the heels of his debut, _Only Forward_, _Spares_ confirms that he is definitely someone to watch!
Some reviewers have faulted Smith for attempting to shoehorn too many diverse ideas into a single book, or for creating such an unlikeable person in his protagonist, Jack Randall. Depending on your point of view, this may be a valid criticism. For me, the mix worked and worked in a magical way I come across all too infrequently in my reading these days.
Jack is a drug-addicted former policeman in the surreal future world of New Richmond, Virginia, a grounded MegaMall which has been taken over as the basis for a city. On the run with a group of spares (clones created so that their body parts may be harvested, should the original ever need a replacement) he's liberated from a Farm, Jack comes up against the same forces which necessitated his escape five years previously. Throw in the Gap, a strange, interdimensional reality, not quite analagous to cyberspace but similar, in which a war was fought 20 years ago, a war Jack and several of the other characters are veterans of, and the book is almost overflowing with ideas, originality, and an amazing level of energy.
If you're a fan of cross-genre mixes, hardboiled/sci-fi, this book is definitely worth your while. Even if you're not, this is still worth a try. Smith is one of the most inventive and interesting new writers to come along in the past few years. Based on his first two novels and a number of his short stories, including "More Tomorrow," an excellent Internet horror tale, I'd say it's obvious Smith has quite a future ahead of him and, for now, a dedicated new fan in this critic.
on 12 May 2004
Superb writing skill, takes you on a journey to places you'd rather not know existed. To places you do not want to go but cannot do anything but willingly follow.
The story and style simply hooks you on page one and doesn't let go until the last page - prepare for sleepless nights (for more than one reason).
This is the book that the word 'dark' has been waiting for, no other description fits. Darkest book I have ever read - imagery painfully graphic and descriptive on an unprecedented scale. Humour at its most blackest and unexpected, often diffusing the most grotesque of situations.
One of the very few books I can read repeatedly, cannot recommend highly enough.
on 24 April 2003
Before I read this book I always assumed Sci-Fi books were stories about weird aliens – written by geeks, for geeks. My friend lent me this book and I wasn’t really expecting it to be any good.
I was hooked from the first page. The world the story is based in is very, very cool. I now understand the term, cyber-punk. Drug-dealing, gun-totting, nutters living in a high-tech world, populated with scum.
The book is a detective story set in a huge shopping centre. The shopping centre used to travel from continent to continent (it can fly) but broke down and never resumed its journey. It’s a massive self-contained city, 100’s of floors high. The scum live at the bottom and the rich at the top. The detective is the, rapt-addicted, janitor of the “spares” farm. He determines to set right the injustices that the spares have suffered. In doing this, he has to confront his, very dark, past.
I read the book in one sitting. I started reading it at about 11.00pm and was reading it for so long that I didn’t go to university the next day.
I concur with the other reviews on this page. This is one of the only books I’ve read that I didn’t want to end.
I loved this book. MMS is a fantastic writer, one of a rare breed who prize imagination and originality. I'd put him up there with Jeff Noon and Jonathan Carroll. His work is very hard to categorise as it crosses genres and expectations - often within the same story. This book is superb. It starts with a great premise and builds on it, then gives you a disturbing and thought provoking idea. There's a real and genuine moral issue here - one that is become more possible each day.
Before the book was even published, I hear Spielberg had optioned it for a huge sum. Now, this is good - the book will make a superb film, but I wonder if the ending was re-written to fit into the Hollywood slot? To me, the book's only flaw is the, admitedly well written, chase-and-escape style ending. It doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the tone, to me - but that's just my opinion. It's still great and you should buy it.
I was lucky enough to meet MMS at a book signing in Manchester - if you ever get the chance to see and hear him read his own work - go - he's a star!
on 21 August 2004
I had read "Only Forward" and "One Of Us" before I bought Spares for 25p out of a bargain bin at my local library (sorry, Amazon), and "SPares" definately did not disappoint me.
As with the other two MMS novels I've read, "Spares" starts off setting an amusing, dark and crime-ridden scene, before introducing the inexplicably likeable hero, and continues in this vein for about half the book.
Then, still in pattern, it delves into a much, much stranger kind of novel, one with wonderful similes and atmospheric adjectives, but nevertheless very dark and brutal to read. In "Spares" this stage takes place in the Gap, a Vietnam-like land, where the central character served time when he was about 22, killing while on hard drugs.
MMS seems to have a talent for this kind of description - while the Gap, Jeamland and the strange ideas from "One Of Us" are all bizarre and twisted, there is something in the idea that you end up feeling an affinity for.
Sadly, and this is perhaps the only negative point I have about the novel, most of the humour also goes with the change of pace (except for one page which had me in hysterics, in the middle of an especially unfunny segment - but it worked, nonetheless). This is a pity, since MMS's humour is some of the best I've ever read, but the book still works without it.
In short, it might be a better idea to buy "Only Forward" before "Spares", but you will love it anyway. I did.
on 25 January 2013
Phew !! I've finally finished it !! I'm not the biggest sci-fi reader but after reading The Straw Men i thought i'd read this & see what all the hype was about. Don't get me wrong, i enjoyed it alot, especially the character of Jack Randall who, for me, had shades of Alec Leamas about him .. a sort of futile detachment from the world & all the people in it and a firm belief that whatever good deed's he tries to do his bad deed's of the past will always rise up & thwart them. I liked the scenery & the idea behind the Portal & New Richmond .. the stab at our ever increasing commercialism & reliance on the endless & infinite computer codes that seem to hold everything together these day's .... this author not only has a huge, complex & amazing imagination, he also has a darkly comic sense of humour ... although i would have preferred more of it to have been on show, what there was brought a wry smile .. if the rumour is correct regarding the film rights expiring & then Spielberg making The Island then this author is also quite calm !! I'd be on a one way ticket over to do a 'Vinaldi' on his ass ... but then the film is so far removed from the book apart from the very basic 'spares' that MMS was probably correct to dismiss it out of hand with a 'dont flatter yourselve' attitude ... where the film is glossy & sugar-coated with good-looking , flawless characters the book is dark, grim & ugly .. a dirty reminder of the 'could be' underbelly of the people that have & the unfortunates that haven't.
on 18 February 2000
What can I say to justify this book,an explosion of mind numbing brilliance.I've often felt a lot of todays S.F. tend to forget a good book needs a good story,and a good story needs characters the reader can or would like too identify with, not just pages that could couple as a Technical index manual.Well this book does that and then some.I found myself not only rooting for the main character "Jack Randall" but also cheering for the bit part players.All in all this is a must read book and not just for the sci-fi buff but for all people who want to enter the strange and facinating place somewhere in the depts of the imagination.