Friday, August 18, 2006

Spares - Michael Marshall Smith

Grim, gritty and slightly strange - no other writers are quite like Michael Marshall Smith. Despite being set firmly in a hi-tech future, his stories tend to veer subtly away from boring technocentric cyberpunk into very strange places indeed, and this one is no exception. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn't, but either way it's an interesting journey.

The basic concept behind Spares is a very nasty one, the idea that the rich maintain farms of vat-grown human clones to use as spare parts whenever they have an accident or need a transplant. The story starts off with Jack Randall, the farm's caretaker, escaping with a handful of these "spares" who he wants to save from the knife. However, Jack needs to resupply in the strange, layered city of New Richmond, a metal cube hundreds of stories high, where the scum inhabit the lowest levels and the rich strive for the top, and the spares are abducted. Tracking them down, he uncovers some very unpleasant goings-on and comes into conflict with the gangs that run the city... and then events take yet another turn and get very weird indeed.

I wasn't quite sure how to take the weirdness, which comes in the form of a very non-science-y overlapping reality, similar to the Jeamland from his earlier work Only Forward. Its appearance made sense of some of the strange events hinted at earlier on in the book, and dragged the book very decisively outside the normal bounds of the genre, but its deliberately unscientific premise did jar somewhat with the futuristic setting. However, minor quibbles aside, this worked much better than Jeamland and was a whole lot nastier too.

So, I wasn't entirely convinced by the settings, and the bones of the plot are pretty basic, so why the high score? Well, it's probably because MMS can write extremely well, and he's very good at atmosphere. Even if the idea of New Richmond is a bit hard to swallow (a 200-story flying shopping centre? Come on!), the squalor of the lower corridors and the arrogant opulence of the upper ones feels very real indeed; likewise with the shifting forests on the other side, even if the method of getting there seems quite silly. You'll need to suspend your disbelief rather longer than usual, but if you can manage that, it's definitely worth it.



Post a Comment

<< Home