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 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 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.
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 18 December 2014
MM Smith wrote 3 amazing books, each with plots and traits that sound totally ridiculous, but which he made utterly believable. They were like nothing I'd read before. Then the b*****d went and started writing more 'serious' books, grounded more in our (current) reality.
Come back Michael! I want more of Spares, One of Us, Only Forward etc! Take some shrooms or something FFS!
In the meantime, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Pure brilliance.
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 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 27 August 2016
I went into this thinking I would love it. I love science fiction and this novel about a man attempting to save a group of cloned humans who serve as body organ "spares" for the rich folks who cloned them sounded right up my street. However, despite some nice writing, this book doesn't seem to really know what it is. The "hero" spends half his time off his face on some kind of designer drug which makes it hard to relate to him and made me lose interest in him long before the end. Some of it is a portrayal of a clearly disfunctioning dystopian society; but then part of it is a murder-mystery type crime thriller as said hero (when he's not jacked up on designer drugs) tries to solve who killed his wife and child. The hero is not a nice chap and it's hard to feel empathy. The spares don't get much of an outing and the novel seems to change direction half way through, losing focus as it does so.
This wasn't for me - I gave up before the end which is something I rarely do.
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 15 October 2002
This is another winner from Michael Marshall Smith. I read 'Only Forward' about two years ago and that blow my mind away. 'Spares' more than matches this first novel with its pace and imagination. If science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact, we don't stand a chance!! Read this book, it might just make your day.