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Only Forward

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  5,231 ratings  ·  458 reviews
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 missi ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 342 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by Spectra (first published April 1994)
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Saharra George The entire book reads like Smith was writing without an outline and just let things happen. As a result the book is full of things that don't make sen…moreThe entire book reads like Smith was writing without an outline and just let things happen. As a result the book is full of things that don't make sense. This is simply another one. Even Smith couldn't couldn't answer this question because I guarantee you isn't something he gave any thought to. (less)
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Average rating 4.24  · 
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"I made a mental note to tell the next Street Engineer I met that they were doing a damn fine job. Sort of an embarrassing thing to think, but I knew it was safe; I always lose my mental notes."

Glad I'm not the only one. I had some intelligent things to say about Only Forward, but I can't find my mental sticky notes. I do know that I found the beginning undeniably clever and almost unputdownable. My reading updates show chuckling and snerking through the first hundred pages.

"Working out what tha
Vit Babenco
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Michael Marshall Smith combines dystopia, hardboiled mystery and magic realism but he is always staying on the mocking side of things so the black humour fountains up.
The dystopian world is sinister and kitschy:
There's no good or bad time to get on a Red mono. They don't have hours where you do certain things, or days even. You just pay your money and take your chances. Actually, by Red standards the carriage I boarded was fairly civilised. True, there was both vomit and a human turd on the seat
Kevin Kelsey
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2018
Conceptually it's brilliant, but with terrible execution and poor writing.

95% of it is "Ohh look at x isn't it WEIRD?! Actually, never mind, how about y, isn't y WEIRD?! Well, if you think y is weird, you're really going to go wild for z! It's the weirdest of them all!" Followed by completely ignoring x, y and z, and throwing in a straightforward explanation of what has actually been going on the whole time.

I really, really liked the explanation, but the book forgot to tell a compelling story un
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
Jack Tripper
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
(Full review 3/25/18)

What starts out as a hilarious send-up of cyberpunk and hardboiled/noir eventually turns into a hallucinatory nightmare, making it almost two novels in one. If Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash was cyberpunk-cubed, with loads more action and craziness than your typical Gibson-esque fare, then this is Snow Crash-cubed, at least in the earlier sections. It would have been fine had it kept its initial tone throughout, but the second half takes everything to another level.

It takes pl
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 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
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Dec 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, favorites

‘Department of Doing Things Especially Quickly.’
‘Contact? ‘
‘Zenda Renn, Under-Supervisor of Really Hustling Things Along.’

A private investigator who claims to have some undefined paranormal ability is called to the Centre to get a top secret job: find a missing senior Actioneer named Alkland and bring him back no matter what the costs. Some weird shit is going on, and Stark is the best man available to unravel the mystery.

Oh, Goodie! was my first thought. Philip Marlowe meets Dou
Jan 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderfully weird, touching and inspired story. The first half was rough - a noir style detective story with writing I found flat and wholly unsubtle, and humor that mostly missed the mark. It was almost a DNF.

Yet, the second half takes on whole new dimensions, not even hinted at earlier. The story weaves together elements of magical realism and alternate realities that mix and blend in bizarre, dreamlike ways that feel bewildering but also strangely compelling. Think what the film Incept
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 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
Alfred Haplo
What?! Brilliant and bonkers both, there was nothing conventional about Michael Marshall Smith’s award-winning Only Forward* despite all appearances at the beginning. Unfortunately, those were the parts I enjoyed most with its cynical humor and snappy dialogue. The plot then took such a twisted turn, I suffered from whiplash and have not quite recovered from it. Highly recommended for the experience though.

[* 2000 Philip K. Dick Award, 1995 August Derleth Award]
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks-read, 2020
What an odd gem this book is. It starts out as an entertaining thriller set in a unique near-future world. I was digging it immensely, especially because the main protagonist, Stark, is extremely engaging. He was a perfect mix of humor and can-do that makes for some great lines.

For instance:

"[T]he stations zipped by soundlessly, and I geared myself up for whatever it was I had to gear myself up for. I didn’t have much to go on, so I just geared up generally."

Talking about not wanting to remember
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
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
Evans Light
100 pages - DNF. No rating.

Despite glowing reviews and enthusiastic recommendations, this book ultimately didn't pull me along. Relentlessly imaginative, I found it was the lack of forward narrative momentum that ultimately put me off, ironically enough. The tone was lighthearted without being outright funny, but the characters didn't engage. I skimmed the remainder of the book and didn't see anything to pull me back in.

I think that fans of David Wong's Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits would
Nov 10, 2009 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
Peter Tillman
Oct 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
DNF, *definitely* not for me. SF/mystery, twisty, ’humor.’ I didn't like it. Oh, well. From my 2002 booklog notes. The only one of his books I've tried, as the others sound similar.

OTOH, my GR friend Carol liked it a lot:
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
May 17, 2010 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
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scribd
Hmmm... this was 4.5 stars...rounding was a challenge. Could have gone up to 5 or down to 3.5.

As I've said, I had a hard time rating this one. I had to consider how much I enjoyed it, plus how good I think it was, plus whether I'd recommend it.

So, 5 stars it is, then. I immensely enjoyed the first third and I'd read the whole thing again. I don't regret it at all and I'd recommend it to anyone as long as they don't have a problem with mentions of corpses and canniablism, dead babies in particu
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
Martha Steele
May 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bizarre worlds are my jam, and this fits the bill. It's not a book for everyone, but I highly enjoyed it. I normally consume books in audio, but I read this as a library book on kindle since that was my only choice. I bet I would have loved it more in that format. ...more
Feb 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Like 1.5 stars maybe?

I did not enjoy this book. It was near DNF almost the whole way. There are some really funny lines now and then, but that's not enough to carry a novel. I had just enough curiosity to keep me going to somewhere between 50 - 60%, then I pretty much skimmed from there to 90%, and finally I just couldn't be bothered to even skim anymore.

Bad stuff:
- Action Centre
- Jeamland (dreamland)
- mild meta / surrealist aspects
- cats
- giggling

Good stuff:
- humor
- MC is tolerably likable

Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
Early in to this book I flashed back on the books of Ron Goulart that I read back in the 70's and 80's. There was a very similar sense of humor. And as I got a little further in to the book, I began to sense a bit of Phil Dick. When I told this to my friend, he said that the writing style reminded him of Roger Zelazny. I can see that, too.

There was something incredibly unique here. I never got a sense that I was reading something that had been done to death in different ways.

In Only Forward, Smi
Marc Nash
Oct 11, 2016 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
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, cyberpunk, 2014
4.5 Stars

Part 1: Hardboiled detective in a strange cyberpunk (of sorts) future. Funny in a Hitchhiker's Guide sort of way.

Part 2: Things get weird. Very weird.

Part 3: Surreal to the point that if I hadn't read the entire book in one sitting, I might question if I hadn't picked up the wrong book by mistake. I can't begin to describe the last half of this book without spoilers.

My only gripe, that I leave here so that my future self can remember what that annoyance in the back of my mind over this
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi
An adventurous, and a well thought out debut novel for Michael Marshall Smith. Stark is a sort of 'fixer' that solve problems nobody else can, problems in The City which is made up of separate and amazing Neighbourhoods. Stark, resident of the Colour Neighbourhood accepts a job from his friend to find a missing person. Stark also seeks help from another friend a psychotic gangster from the Red Neighbourhood! It goes without saying that the book is just as much about the diverse Neighbourhoods, a ...more
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
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This made me laugh extremely and cry, emotional, sassy, tough and soft, a dream and a nightmare, exceptionally strange and wonderful.
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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.” 92 likes
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