No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012/51: Spares -- Michael Marshall Smith

So many objects and machines these days are stuffed full of intellect - and most of the time it's just turned off. We're surrounded by unused intelligence, and for once it's not our own. For every fridge which tells you what's fresh and what's not, there'll be fifty which have been told to shut the fuck up. ... We created things which are clever and then told them to be stupid instead. (p. 105)

Read for bookclub, Spares is a futuristic noir thriller that begins in the lowest levels of a crippled shopping mall, takes in a clone farm and the mysterious Gap ('all the places where no one is' (208)), and culminates in a chapel at the very top of the MegaMall. Protagonist Jack Randall (ex-cop, ex-bladerunner, ex-soldier) starts off thinking that he's carrying out a rescue: in the end, the only person he can rescue is himself. He needs to learn a lot about what's really going on before he can solve a series of crimes and bring to justice the man who wrecked his life.

I suspect this was a far better read when it came out in the late 1990s: now -- fatal for an SF novel -- its vision of the 22nd century feels dated. A street price of $800 for 128GB RAM? $800 enough to subsist on for quite a while? And, damningly, 'it must have been great when computers could only fuck you up at work, by pretending they couldn't find the printer' (p. 83). That's the author, not the character.

There are some excellent ideas in here -- smart appliances, the Gap, cloning as medical insurance, the MegaMall, the drug that intensifies reality, the reformed war droid who's the most likeable character in the novel -- but I didn't feel they really came together. Or maybe I was distracted [or repulsed, or outraged] by the protagonist's sexism, and the sexism of the whole society.

I have neither the time nor the desire to discuss sexism / misogyny in Spares at any length, but here are some examples:

  1. The most successful career woman in here is a professional shopper.
  2. Female clones as sex objects (okay, not just the clones)
  3. The feud between Vinaldi and Randall is based on what they did to each other's wives (no indication that the wives had any agency in those situations).
  4. One female character is pleasantly surprised not to be raped when she's captured. (Presumably this is usual in such circumstances.)
  5. There are lots of soldiers. None of them are female.
  6. Maxwork -- 'relief from tedium', something for men to do while women shop. So men don't shop? So women don't get bored by any male activity?
  7. 'suddenly furious in that force-of-nature way women have' (269)
I'd have liked this novel much better if I'd read it ten years ago. Friends who did read it back then don't recall the misogyny being anything out of the ordinary: but times have changed. I wonder how differently the author would write it now?


  1. Well, this book sounds awful. The women shoppers and the man maxers and the computer / printer: tedium! I'm very glad you read it before me to show me the way (of not needing to go there). ;-)

  2. Anonymous1:16 am

    Maybe that's the reason it should be read. Because it is a challenging text with some pretty extreme themes. But if you never read the text, you never learn how it's so bad or alternatively like the novel.