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Cool as f***
by Asa Butcher
Issue 15
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Only Forward
Michael Marshall Smith
HarperCollins, 1994
What is the coolest book you have ever read? I mean a seriously stylish book that made you say, 'Wow! I wish that was me'? A book which threatens serious damage to your optic nerve because you can't read fast enough and causes sleep-deprivation as you desperately want to reach the climax.

The name of that book is 'Only Forward' and it was the incredible first novel by Michael Marshall Smith, who offers a vision of the future that triggers a bitter envy of fictional characters and an imagination of such quality that you are jealous of the man's writing talent. You may have guessed that this is one of my favourite books of all-time.

If memory serves, this is the first book I have ever read more than once and it one of the few books that I just can't put down once started. Everything from the electric blue cover, with its fast-forward/rewind icons, to the slogans 'Ever wondered where you go to dream?' enthuse you with anticipation before you have had a chance to reach the first sentence.

The story begins when somebody is kidnapped from the Action Centre, a Neighbourhood for people who have to be doing something 'all the time', and Stark is hired to find him. Stark is a troubleshooter who knows how to solve problems, fit in and has an immaculate taste in shirts, plus he knows how to get into Jeamland, the place we go to dream. And that is all I am going to tell you.

Stark is one of the coolest main characters you are ever likely to encounter, well, until you read 'Spares, another Michael Marshall Smith book, then you have two. Stark lives his life through countless Plan Bs, or even Plan Zs on the odd occasion. He knows how to get things done, will tell you information 'if it's relevant' and has contacts in all the Neighbourhoods.

Yes, that is neighbourhood with a capital 'n', which is the first part of this perfect future. The City covers the country from coast to coast and is divided into different Neighbourhoods, each catering to the desires of its inhabitants. People who don't noise live in Sound, the super-rich live in Brandfield, computer nerds live in Natsci, cats live in Cat and the criminals live in Red Neighbourhood, and most have walls to either keep people out or keep people in.

Another aspect of this perfect vision of the future is the personalities that the author gives to inanimate objects, such as the BugAnaly™ that has feelings and sulks when Stark gives it a hard time. I love the idea of CloazValet™ and the Gravbenda™, while the flu bomb sounds like one of the worst weapons ever conceived.

All the characters are people you would love to meet, especially Ji, Shelby and Zenda, but there is a special place in my heart for Spangle, Stark's cat. You must read 'Only Forward' and then you will truly understand my feelings for this novel, although be warned: once you start, it will be hard to stop.

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