book-reviews

Only Forward

by Michael Marshall Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Only Forward is what happens when you throw Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash at H. P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. An ass-kicking private investigator takes on a libertarian future that's bizarre and terrifying, but still pales in comparison to what awaits you in your sleep.

The future is strange. Naming all the interesting things this book paints -- like the micro-state of Really Productive People, where visitors get blown up for dilly-dallying, or the aesthetically-obsessed neighbourhood where the walls like your style, or the land ruled by cats -- would take too long and deprive readers of the pleasure, so suffice to say that there are more of these things and that they are interesting.

Highly unpredictable, the story copes with its outlandish setting via the application of some surreal humour, and the main character's commentary keeps you grounded in the whirlwind of the unfamiliar, while still never quite letting you know all the rules. The surreality does however mean that it can be hard to form any attachment to the characters, and some of the trauma in the book is very much at a distance.

For science-fiction fans and anyone into the surreal, this book will hold interest, particularly if you're also particular to a mystery novel. Those who like to keep a foot on the ground might suffer, but in general the excellent writing should hook you.