Book Review: Only Forward

Only Forward
By Michael Marshall Smith

My Edition:
Paperback, 310 pages
2015, Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780008117443

Stark is the Private Eye you call when Something Happens and you need help. Stark has a way with dreams and the past that makes him the man for the job. Living in a world where people are separated by Neighborhoods governed by specific (and usually bizarre) rules, Stark has found a way to bend the rules and move from Neighborhood to Neighborhood the way most people can’t. But when his friend Zenda calls him to help with Something that Happened, Stark discovers he might be in over his head.

This book is utterly weird and I loved it! It is the first book from my Mr. B’s subscription that my girl Melissa gifted me for my birthday. I’d never heard of M.M. Smith before (he also writes as just Michael Smith) and now I need to get my hands on more of his work.

If you like sci-fi that is also fantastical and strange and at times, really disgusting and scary, then this is the book for you. The description on the back really didn’t prepare me for anything that happened in this book, other than Stark being a detective. And that’s ok!

This is a tough book to describe and part of my enjoyment definitely came from not knowing what the fuck was going to happen next and learning the “rules” of this sci-fi universe. Stark is the lovable loser type (tropey, but it works so well with detectives that I don’t mind) who can’t seem to get his life in control or his advanced technology to listen to him. He does really care for his cat though. Who doesn’t love a man who values cats!?

Only Forward is one of those stories that doesn’t spell everything out for you. This is neither good nor bad – at times I enjoy a lot of detail and a rundown of the world’s rules, etc. but other times I like to figure things out for myself. This doesn’t mean I figured out everything about the Neighborhoods and the technology though! Far from it. Per usual, I think I was a little lost. But in a good way. I filled in some details myself and decided not to wonder too hard about others, which I think is what Smith is going for. This is a book more about the experiences and characters, not about knowing precisely how everything in their world works.

While reading I laughed, I mumbled to myself, I said “ew” more than a few times and scratched my head a lot. This was a very enjoyable read and I was certain it was a series. I mean, what book about a detective isn’t!? It’s the perfect set up! Alas, this appears to be a standalone (at least, from what I could tell during my furious late-night research after I finished this – Smith’s website doesn’t allude to any other Stark books) and I’m disappointed.

I’m happy to have discovered a new author to love though. If you’re into weird sci-fi (weird-fi? Weird-sci?) then I think you should give this a shot. If it helps sweeten the deal, Neil Gaiman does the forward in my edition. If Neil Gaiman enjoyed a book enough to write a forward, I’m certainly willing to give it a shot!

Micheal’s website (complete with his handsome face)

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