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Call him Stark. If you have to. If you're lucky, you won't call him at all. Because if you do, it means you've got trouble. Big trouble. And the ...
Call him Stark. If you have to. If you're lucky, you won't call him at all. Because if you do, it means you've got trouble. Big trouble. And the problem is that before Stark is done fixing something, a whole lot of other things usually get broken. Like laws and lives—and anyone who gets in the way. It's that attitude that's earned him his latest assignment: finding a missing VIP named Fell Alkland. The authorities believe Alkland has been kidnapped. Stark doesn't. He hasn't stayed alive this long without learning the basics of survival in a world hurtling straight to hell: Things are always more complicated than they seem. And when a job seems too easy, that's when something really ugly is about to happen. For Fell Alkland is about to become Stark's worst nightmare, a nightmare where anything can happen at any time—where friends can become enemies in a heartbeat and your most secret fear a soul-screaming reality. And the worst of it is that for this nightmare you don't even have to be asleep.
The boy was sitting playing in the living room when suddenly he had an odd feeling. He looked around the room, thinking maybe that the cat had walked behind him, gently moving the air. But he wasn't there, and nothing else was out of the ordinary, so the boy went back to what he was doing. He was coloring a picture of a jungle in his coloring book, and he wanted to have it finished before his father got home from work.
Then there was a knock at the door.
The boy stared at the door for a moment. That's what the feeling had been about. He had known there would be a knock at the door, just as he sometimes knew that the phone was going to ring. He knew that it couldn't be his mother, because he'd seen her take the keys. He also knew that he shouldn't open the door to strangers when he was in the house alone. But something made him feel that this didn't count, that this time was different. After all, he'd known about it beforehand. So he got up, and walked slowly over to the door. After a pause, he opened it.
At the time his family were living high up in an apartment house. Outside their door was a balconied walkway which went right around the floor and led to lifts around to the right. It was midmorning, and bright spring sun streamed into the room, the sky a shining splash of white and blue.
On the balcony stood a man. He was a big man, wearing tired jeans and nothing on his feet. His torso was naked except for tiny whorls of hair, and he didn't have a head.
The man stood there on the balcony outside the boy's flat, leaning against the wall. His head and neck had been pulled from his body like a tooth from the gum, and his shoulders had healed over smoothly, with a pronounced dip in the middle where the roots had been.
The boy did not feel afraid, but instead a kind of terrible compassion and loss.
He didn't know what the feelings were in words, of course. He just felt bad for the man.
"Hello?" he said, timidly.
In his head the boy heard a voice.
"Help me," it said.
"Help me," said the voice again, "I can't find my way home."
The boy heard a noise from along the balcony and knew it was the elevator doors opening. His mother was coming back. The man spoke once more, spoke to the boy as if he was the only one who could help him, as if somehow it was his responsibility.
"I want to go back home. Help me."
"Where's your home?"
The voice inside his head said something, and the boy tried to repeat it, but he was young, a child, and couldn't get the word right. He heard footsteps comings toward the nearest corner, and knew they were his mother's."I can't help you," he said. "I can't help you," and he gently closed the door, shutting out the light. He walked stiffly back toward his book and all at once his legs gave way and left him on the floor.
When his mother came in moments later, she found the boy asleep on the carpet, with tears on his face. He woke up when she hugged him, and said that nothing was wrong. He didn't tell her about the dream, and soon forgot all about it.
But later he remembered, and realized it had not been a dream.
Posted February 26, 2001
I love this insights into human life, I started reading last night, and got so caught up in it, I started writing on the pages. (hope the library does notice) I read parts of the book to others at school. One passage in particular, talked about Stark and an old friend and the ending of the relationship. Very deep, and very touching. I cried. yeah long story :-) Anyway good book
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Posted September 7, 2000
It's been a few years since I've read this book, as I was desperate enough to buy the British edition to read more by Mr. Smith. Needless to day, <b>Only Forward</b> was a clear indication that there was a new, creative, damn good author on the scene, and it was only a matter of time until some folks over in the states realized it, too. Not only does he create a vivid, realized dystopian world, filled with believable, sympathetic characters, but he also makes some apt observations on life and what it is to be human. On top of all that, the novel entertains by blending science fiction elements with a gripping mystery, adding a touch of fantasy here and there to keep things interesting. And the story itself will keep you guessing all the way through the novel ... which will probably keep you up late into the night. <p> Now that the book is available in the states, it would be a shame to pass up such an incredible book. Read it. Be amazed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2000
Posted December 9, 2008
In a future world a lot weirder than the present, only a lunatic or a desperado would seek the services of Stark. Somehow, when he is on the job, everything seems to go screwier as Stark makes a sentry dog seem more like a gentle house pet. <P> Thus, when Actioneer Zenda Renn introduces Stark to Darv and C of the Action Center¿s Intelligence Agency (ACIA), he knows they must be in extreme trouble, which they are. Apparently, three days ago someone abducted Senior Actioneer Fell Alkland who was doing highly classified work at the time. Stark is to find out who kidnapped Alkland, how they did it, and bring him back alive. <P> Stark thinks the case has nothing to do with abduction, but knows that any inquiries in any of the Neighborhoods can be very perilous to one¿s life even if the case appears quite simple like this one. However, even the ultra-cautious Stark is not yet aware that Murphy¿s Law has been renamed for him because he soon becomes the target of friend and foe alike. <P> If anyone had doubts before ONLY FORWARD was published that Michael Marshall Smith owns the absurd futuristic who-done-it sub-genre, they will not think so after this wild novel. ONLY FORWARD is weird, yet also amusing and entertaining. The story line is filled with a strange world loaded with intriguing but hard drive error gizmos inside a wonderful mystery. Stark is a great protagonist while the support cast provides depth to this surreal world. Not for everyone, Mr. Smith satirizes the mystery and science fiction genres while ripping every ONE OF US with its acerbic tongue in cheek plot. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 13, 2011
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