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Only Forward

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  3,445 Ratings  ·  275 Reviews
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....

Call him Stark. If you have to. If you're lu
Paperback, 342 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by Spectra (first published 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" novels. I really enjoyed the two other books I have read by Michael Marshall Smith, Spares and Straw Men and so had fairly high expections going into this book. They were SIGNIFICANTLY exceeded. I loved this book from the opening page to the very last word.

This book is defintely a "mind trip" where reality is not always what you think it is and you are never sure what is going to happen next. However, unlike other books like this, the author does a s
Oh -- my -- god. When I started reading this book I expected it to keep up the fairly light tone of the early chapters. Then it fucked with my heart bad. Don't believe reviews saying it makes no sense: it makes perfect sense, in the end, as long as you stop holding onto normal logic and start applying some dream logic. The narrator is unreliable, yeah, and he has attitude, and he knows he's telling a story, so there are bits that some people find irritating, like the way he keeps saying he'll te ...more
Jul 18, 2015 Karl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book won the August Derleth Award (1995) and Philip K. Dick Award (2000).

The books starts with a small boy that is left on his own in a flat. The boy answers a knocking on the front door of his high rise flat to find a man with no head standing on the doorstep.

Set in a stylized future City where individuals live in neighborhoods organically responsive to their moods and lifestyles, the story begins as a routine missing persons case for its narrator, Stark, an irreverent soft-boiled detecti
i want to take a pair of scissors to this book.

not to make confetti, or compost, of it, but to rearrange it.

the author is introducing quite central new characters on page 320, fer chrissakes! the last 15 or so pages of the book are a firehose of infodump (well-written infodump, but still), the streams of which tie the book together.

but how much better it could have been if those streams were introduced earlier as rills... it would have ameliorated the worst problems of the beginning, and made th
Aug 28, 2016 Skip rated it liked it
Weird. Really. Hard to classify too. The first half of the book follows Stark, who is hired to find an important person, who is believed to have been kidnapped. He lives in an interesting alternative world, with many oddball friends and neighborhoods, my favorite of which is the Cat Neighborhood. About halfway through, everything changes as we are abruptly transitioned into a dreamworld, with little upfront explanation. As the explanation unfolds bit by bit, we long for a cohesive end. There is ...more
Alexis Hall
Brought to your courtesy of Reading Project 2015.

I love this, I deeply love it, largely because of a single quote which I shall now transcribe:

How many times have you tried to talk to someone about something that matters to you, tried to get them to see it the way you do? And how many of those times have ended with you feeling bitter, resenting them for making you feel like your pain doesn't have any substance after all?

Like when you've split up with someone, and you try to communicate the way y
Adam Light
ONLY FORWARD is one of the most original, mind-bending novels I have had the pleasure to read in as long as I can remember.

I planned to read it sometime this year, but when I put it on my to-read list, my friend Gregor promptly advised me that this deserved my immediate attention.

To begin with, I read the Straw Men trilogy by Michael Marshallmany years ago, and had no idea that the masterful author of those books also wrote under the name Michael Marshall Smith. When I learned this, I sought out
Daniel Roy
What a perplexing book. On the one hand, I certainly have never read anything quite like it; but then there are tons of aspects of the book that are irritating and unsatisfying, making the novel fall well short of brilliance.

The novel starts as an Adams-esque science fictional satire, complete with home appliances with snappy personalities. My suspension of disbelief wrestled with the setting for a while, until I accepted that it was satirical and surreal, and thus should not be expected to make
Oct 12, 2010 Bill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably going to be the worst review I've written.
There is so much to say about this novel, but I can't really tell you anything without spoiling it.
So, where to start?
How about the story? Well, the less you know, the better. Suffice it to say, our hero's travels take on some strange turns.

This is the second book I've read by Smith. His thriller Straw Men, under the name Michael Smith, was quite good, but the story wasn't one I wanted to keep following for two more novels.

Only Forward
Nov 08, 2008 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ann by: Stefan
Shelves: sci-fi, futuristic, wow
First part: funny but confusing. Second part: even more confusing, and not so funny anymore. Third part: bittersweet and beautiful. I still don't know what to make of this book. Many people don't seem to like the ending, but I loved it. Only then do the first parts make sense. You get bits and pieces of the back story throughout the book and can guess what's important and what different things have to do with each other, but only the end "explains" it all, and I'm one of those people who need th ...more
Marc Nash
Oct 11, 2016 Marc Nash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This read as a mix of The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas The End of Mr. Y in it's evocation of an alternative reality on the lines of that book's 'Troposphere' and Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson Divided Kingdom in a country divided by personality types in this case neighbourhoods such as "Colour", "Sound", "Idyll", or the benighted "Turn".

I found the evocation of these different neighbourhoods more satisfying than the personal psychological journey of the main character. It strikes me that when you try and bridge from a fantastical other/future world back
Jun 04, 2010 Sammie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: age-over-10
This book is exactly what science-fiction should be!

There are two very distinct parts to it. I found the first part (the Neighborhoods) so absorbing, interesting and real that it didn't feel like reading fiction at all. As clichéd as it might sound, I felt like I was really there. The second part of the book (Jeamland) was equally as interesting, thought-provoking and easy to read, but it did not have the same intense feel to it. Plot-wise, Jeamland is a bit of a leap and expects the reader to w
It is impossible for me to write a synopsis of this book. Nevertheless, let me try without giving away too much.

The book is divided into 3 parts. Extremely funny in part 1, weird in part 2 and the weirdest book you will ever come across in part 3. Even more than Naked Lunch (Sigh.. I haven't finished 'Naked Lunch' yet, even though I have tried 3 times!)

There! I said it. And I think I might have given away too much already!

I admit that it might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's.... what shal
Neil Powell
This really was a book of two halves. It begins as a wonderful sci-fi world created around the premise that the Earth is covered by one massive city and each "neighbourhood" has different rules and behaviours that govern the people who live there. The whole "missing person" private eye tale evolves nicely, but then at the half way point it becomes a strange and surreal trip through a dream world. I found the story lost its cohesion here, and it made it difficult to want to finish the book. The n ...more
Matt Pillsbury
Jun 05, 2011 Matt Pillsbury rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book doesn't blend genres; it tosses genres in a burlap sac and then pounds on them with a hammer. It starts out as a spoofy take on hard-boiled detective stories and cyberpunk science fiction, and it ends as a solipsistic fantasy, one which is by turns maudlin and horrific, and the path it takes between those points is a (needlessly?) convoluted one. I don't think I'd describe it as a successful work, but it's far too engrossing, and even, at times, moving, to be called a failure.
Genevra Littlejohn
Feb 28, 2008 Genevra Littlejohn rated it it was amazing
This book stuck with me for a long time.
Set in a future so far ahead as to occasionally be unrecognizable, this is nonetheless a very visceral story about regret and anger, and the distance between people, and the inability to go home--the fact that one must always, can only, go forward. Very recommended if you're looking for a science fiction story unlike anything you've tasted before.
Ian Casey
Sep 15, 2015 Ian Casey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Someone set up this 2015 HarperVoyager edition of the book as a separate page on Goodreads. If a clever person could merge it into the main page that would be nice.)

“I haven’t described what I look like, have I? Remind me later and I will: it’s not that bad, but it’s kind of uncompromising. Every face says something: the deal with mine is that though you might not like what it’s saying you have to admire the strength of its convictions.”

Any work of literature worth the name works on multiple le
Feb 22, 2015 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hardly know what to think about this book. It started out quite promisingly - an interesting alternative world, solid protagonist and a plot which seemed to be moving at about the right pace. However, around half way through everything changes. This isn't be so bad in and of itself, at least if the rest of the book eventually linked everything together. The problem is that it doesn't. About 20 pages from the end I became extremely suspect when none of the loose ends had been tied up. At this s ...more
Oct 06, 2014 Jillian rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I must divide this book into thirds.

First third: five stars. A fun mystery story, and I LOVE the voice of the narrator. He talks like I wish I could talk all the time - with biting sarcasm and ridiculous lies meant to be humorous. To me this is pleasing and hilarious, but others find me to be either (a) a huge jerk or (b) totally insane when I talk this way.

Second third: wait, what is this dreamland place? Our mystery was almost wrapped up (clearly too early in the novel to be wrapped up, obvio
Jan 27, 2014 Richard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steve Wasling
Feb 08, 2013 Steve Wasling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've just finished this often recommended book and I don't even know where to start in describing it. In fact, I think describing it too much would detract from certain aspects of the story. I'll put it this way; It starts as a somewhat surrealistic future SF novel set in an unnamed city that is divided into districts where like-minded individuals can pursue their often extreme lifestyles. Slowly but surely the story broadens into a whole other thing that I'm not going to give away in the slight ...more
Jun 19, 2016 Hank rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No wonder this won the Philip K. Dick award. First it is weird but understandable with a fun little adventure. Then it gets weirder, you can still wrap your head around it and follow the story. The MC gains some depth the quest gains some purchase. Then at the end it gets PKD weird. I am still not entirely sure what happened at the ending or what I am supposed to think but I enjoyed it. There was a bit too much "tell" and not enough "show" at the end or it would have been 5 stars.

I will probab
Aug 27, 2015 Yllacaspia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
One of the best things I have read this year, and possibly one of the best SF/Fantasy novels I have read, ever.

Only Forward starts off as one of those futuristic private eye novels. You KNOW the kind. Philip Marlowe in 2342 or Philip Marlowe in space. There is a PI, a dame, a mystery, some degenerates, some danger, some guns. There is a lot of witty banter. The case is not as it seems, and so forth.

For the first half of the book, apart from being exceptionally well written and well-thought out,
Apr 24, 2012 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amanda by: Gary Dicken
Shelves: best-of-the-best
WOW! There is nothing I can really even say about this outstanding book. Superb writing, plot, world-building- just read it.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 17, 2014 Dea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
Loved it!

At first I wasn't going to read the book, because the description of the protagonist said something about him being a detective, and I didn't care. Then I read the first chapter and knew I would finish the book. Then I came across the cat neighborhood and knew I would not only finish the book but also love it to the very end. That is exactly what happened! I was really sad to see it end, I got a little teary eyed, but it was a really good ending.
(view spoiler)
Thomas Toth
Nov 22, 2011 Thomas Toth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favourite book of all time. It is excellently written in first-person, and Stark's (the protagonist) personality comes across brilliantly, so you really engage with the character and the story right from the beginning. I've read this book an incredible number of times and each time I pick up something new from it. Each time it feels fresh. Only Forward explores an incredible number of themes and settings, all of which are relevant and constructive to the story and plot structure. Each ...more
Ketan Shah
A stunning piece of work,even more so when you consider it's Michael Marshall Smith's first novel. Smart ,surreal and brutal.,with a lot of heart. Smith does a good job creating a hard boiled narrator who does some incredible violent things ,but who you still care for.Ideas fly willy nilly as he describes the various strange neighborhoods that his character's inhabit. If you enjoyed this ,you might like Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan comics,Michael Swanwyck's ,In the Drift and some of William ...more
Jeremy Preacher
May 20, 2015 Jeremy Preacher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi
I was recommended this book in the context of a discussion about SF that deals with men's internal lives, and in that context it is very nearly perfect. Only Forward is a noir-ish science fiction story with a deeply unreliable narrator and an even more unreliable world. It's very dark, full of the sort of ultraviolence that tends to characterize the sort of mostly-male narratives that drive me crazy, but the actual beating heart of the story is Stark's internal life - his childhood, his friendsh ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Sasha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh boy, did I ever enjoy this book! It's been a long time since I felt that I read something new, something I haven't seen anywhere and at the same time so damn satisfying... (the closest I could say is maybe Richard Morgan's trilogy I finished reading sometime this year). The world build is impressive and innovative, the characters are great and first, and foremost, the dynamics are wonderful. It is, just like Richard Morgan's trilogy with Ringil and his wayward band of battered warriors, an ac ...more
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SciFi and Fantasy...: Only Forward - March 2015 3 28 Mar 09, 2015 11:36AM  
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Michael Marshall (Smith) is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. His first novel, ONLY FORWARD, won the August Derleth and Philip K. Dick awards. SPARES and ONE OF US were optioned for film by DreamWorks and Warner Brothers, and the Straw Men trilogy - THE STRAW MEN, THE LONELY DEAD and BLOOD OF ANGELS - were international bestsellers. His most recent novels are THE INTRUDERS, BAD THINGS and K ...more
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“How many times have you tried to talk to someone about something that matters to you, tried to get them to see it the way you do? And how many of those times have ended with you feeling bitter, resenting them for making you feel like your pain doesn't have any substance after all?

Like when you've split up with someone, and you try to communicate the way you feel, because you need to say the words, need to feel that somebody understands just how pissed off and frightened you feel. The problem is, they never do. "Plenty more fish in the sea," they'll say, or "You're better off without them," or "Do you want some of these potato chips?" They never really understand, because they haven't been there, every day, every hour. They don't know the way things have been, the way that it's made you, the way it has structured your world. They'll never realise that someone who makes you feel bad may be the person you need most in the world. They don't understand the history, the background, don't know the pillars of memory that hold you up. Ultimately, they don't know you well enough, and they never can. Everyone's alone in their world, because everybody's life is different. You can send people letters, and show them photos, but they can never come to visit where you live.

Unless you love them. And then they can burn it down.”
“When you're born a light is switched on, a light which shines up through your life. As you get older the light still reaches you, sparkling as it comes up through your memories. And if you're lucky as you travel forward through time, you'll bring the whole of yourself along with you, gathering your skirts and leaving nothing behind, nothing to obscure the light. But if a Bad Thing happens part of you is seared into place, and trapped for ever at that time. The rest of you moves onward, dealing with all the todays and tomorrows, but something, some part of you, is left behind. That part blocks the light, colours the rest of your life, but worse than that, it's alive. Trapped for ever at that moment, and alone in the dark, that part of you is still alive.” 69 likes
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