Only Forward

Only Forward

by Michael Marshall Smith

Paperback(BANTAM SPE)

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Only a handful of authors write with such startling originality that the uniqueness of their vision has become synonymous with their name. In Spares and One of Us, Michael Marshall Smith has earned that distinction. In this unsettling, suspenseful, and wildly imaginative novel he's written a tale that from page one hurtles us....

Only Forward

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553579703
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/2000
Edition description: BANTAM SPE
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Michael Marshall Smith is a novelist and screenwriter. Only Forward, his groundbreaking first novel, won the Philip K. Dick and August Derleth Awards. Its critically acclaimed successors SPARES and ONE OF US were optioned by major Hollywood studios. He has since written the internationally bestselling novels THE STRAW MEN, THE LONELY DEAD and BLOOD OF ANGELS, and his menacing thriller, THE INTRUDERS, was adapted as a major BBC television series. He lives in California with his wife, son and two cats.

Read an Excerpt

Once there was a boy in a house. He was alone because his father was out at work, and his mother had run around the corner to the store. Although the boy was only four, he was a reliable child who knew the difference between toys and accidents waiting to happen, and his mother trusted him to be alone for five minutes.

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.

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Only Forward 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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, Only Forward 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.

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.

Guest More than 1 year ago
Read this book. It's beyond amazing.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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.

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.

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.

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.

Harriet Klausner

DSD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Only Forward is another intriguing book by Michael Marshall Smith. If you've seen My Waking Life it will prepare you some what for this novel. Although, as is the case with most of Smith's stories, the way things end up being aren't always what you would have guessed given the way they start. Only Forward is a story about a guy called Stark who is a special kind of guide who helps people deal with their nightmares. He lives in The City which is divided up into Neighbourhoods with names like Colour, Red, Sound, Cat and Idyll where people (or animals) get to live the way they want to. While it's a sci-fi story because of it's setting, Smith covers adventure, family, love, loss, depression and a bunch of other emotions on a roller coaster ride. My only criticisms are that some of the scenes that take place in Jeamland seemed to drag at times and the ending is very abrupt (in a I've-reached-three-hundred-pages-now-I-can-stop kind of way) but the overall story was very engaging. Two of my favourite quotes are: "But I had no drive. I was an armchair romantic, someone who sat and thought and might have done so with increasing pointlessness until the end of his days. - pp290" and "...the whirling part of my soul that never knew what it wanted and let everything slip through it's hands, because it didn' know itself well enough to know what it should be grasping. - pp290".
WoodPaperBook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago, enjoyed it, forgot about it for awhile, then kept on thinking/feeling memories from certain sections of the book. The atmospheres of this book are bizarrely lingering. I had to get in contact with my ex-boyfriend who owns the book just to get the name of the Title and Author as I had forgotten those details over the years but never the character, places, & beast of the book. I'm looking forward to reading it again :)
Clurb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stark, the wonderfully quirky and original protagonist/narrator of this story is called in to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a high level exec. The nature of Stark's narration makes this a bumpy and often confusing ride through a number of worlds and realities. Written with good amounts of dry humour.
sarah_rubyred on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awesome, a completely new concept. The world is now made of individual self-ruled neighbourhoods, where the only uniting rule is that they don't bother each other. A neighbourhood just for cats, a neighbourhood where everyone trying to work harder than everyone else. My favourite is where the lead character lives, Colour, where it is pretty normal except as you walk down the street the street changes colour to set off your outfit perfectly! Brilliant.On top of all this amazement is a great private detective story, one man hired by a probably dodgy company to find another man in another neighbourhood. A good story but not as memorable as the world.
izzynomad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
cool concept, didn't work. requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. and even then it's still boring.
incandescent on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book and what's not to love? It has a city run by cats and one of my favourite quotes of all time: "Everything you've done, everything you've seen, everything you've become, remains, you can never go back, only forward, and if you don't bring the whole of yourself with you, you'll never see the sun again. "
HeikeM on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This wonderful novel is ever so difficult to describe. It is surreal, weird, fantastic, colourful, strange - a beautiful tale set in a world full of wonders and weirdness. The main character, Stark, does do the impossible jobs. Whenever something difficult and strange needs sorting, he is your man. And friend Zenda needs somebody found. Sounds simple, but it isn't. The world Stark and all the others live in is not ours. It is a city sprawls from coast to coast, divided into Neighbourhoods. Each of those is geared entirely to the desires of those who live in it - from deranged criminals, can-do corporates to people who just don't like noise. Going over the borders into a different Neighbourhood can be very difficult, but that is what Stark has to do. The story reaches from the past into the future, from reality into dreams and becomes more surreal with each paragraph without losing it. It's a weird but brilliant journey into the deepest nightmares you can imagine, told fast, ferocious and funny like the wildest ride at Alton Towers.Genius!
othersam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first read this book almost ten years ago now, and I've never forgotten it. It's possible to read it as a metaphor for writing one's first novel (the title, and the narrator's constant determination to 'get on to the next bit', almost translate as "Come on, keep writing!") But inspiring as that was for me personally, it really misses the point. This is just a stunning book: hugely original, utterly thrilling and ¿ unfortunately for me, writing this now ¿ almost totally indescribable! Hopping with gleeful abandon between horror, SF, comedy, fantasy and ¿ strangely but touchingly ¿ a 'coming of age' story, Only Forward is something a bit special, I reckon. Give it a go.
Staramber on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Trying to sum up the experience of reading this book isn't the easiest task. It doesn't end in the way it begins. It leaps form neighbourhood to neighbourhood to Jeamland picking up different mysteries, different plot lines, different questions. The reader isn't just expected to follow anywhere though. There are no jutting transitions creating the literary equivalent to travel sickness. Each bit flows on from the next; the transitions are wonderfully smooth. Smooth. You could describe the rest of the book as that. Smooth narrator, plot, everything. The world really gives that sense of wonder and amazement without overloading the reader with details. The characters are essentially the people we meet on the street. You can say 'I know that person'. Maybe not as overblown; a smirking satirical voice leads us through.There where some bits that broke the spell for me. A usually unforgivable cliché in the final chapters almost ruined it. But, all in all, it was a very pleasant read.
rachaelster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My house has eaten this, which is a shame because I really enjoyed it. Imaginative and compelling, but the end really dragged, something I find in a lot of science fiction.
Millie_Hennessy More than 1 year ago
This book is utterly weird and I loved it! 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 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 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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago