book-reviews

Spares

by Michael Marshall Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Spares is like The Island. No, not that one. Or that one. I mean this one, the one where Michael Bay directs a rip-off of The Penultimate Truth and Tom Cruise kills himself, though sadly he also survives. Anyway, yes, they're both high-octane sci-fi thriller things involving human beings being grown for parts by the rich. The main distinction between the two is that in Smith's version it's a hell of a lot more horrible, and also that in Smith's version the main character is incidentally a mentally-scarred survivor from an aborted war on the world of dreams.

Spares is also very similar to Only Forwards, the other book of Smith's I've read. A first half which is a futuristic crime thriller set in a bizarre and chillingly cruel world, followed by a sharp left-turn out of reality into a place which is a hell of a lot more frightening and damaging. Keeping you grounded through both books is a wry commentary from the not-totally-sure-what-he's-doing badass main character who's seen too much. Also, you must trust in the cats.

Smith has a talent for summoning a sense of the vaguely terrifying things which can dwell in dreams, and he really goes to town when he's describing the war on dreamland, where the soldiers all had to be on something just to function in a world where even the mocking leaves hurt you. He's not limited to working outside reality, though, as is shown by his outline of what happens when you give people of dubious morality control over the lives and bodies of uneducated clone children.

Not quite surreal (at least for a while) Spares is nonetheless thoroughly nonstandard reading. The crime-thriller aspect might tempt a few more everyday readers, but really it's experienced sci-fi and horror readers only in here.