Only Forward

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Only Forward
Subterranean Press edition cover
AuthorMichael Marshall Smith
GenreScience fiction / Horror
PublisherHarperCollins (UK edition)
Bantam (US edition)
Publication date
Media typePrint (Paperback)
ISBN0-00-651266-6 (UK edition)
0553579703 (US edition)

Only Forward is a science fiction novel by English writer Michael Marshall Smith; his debut novel, it was first published in 1994 by HarperCollins. It was the winner of the August Derleth Award (1995)[1] and Philip K. Dick Award (2000).[2]


A small boy 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. The man cannot speak, but the boy knows he is asking him for help. The boy apologises and, explaining that he cannot help him, closes the door and returns to playing games. The protagonist, Stark, a troubleshooter living in the Colour Neighbourhood, accepts a job from his friend, a high-ranking member of The Action Centre, Zenda Renn, and sets out to find senior Actioneer Fell Alkland, who appears to have gone missing under peculiar circumstances. Stark contacts another friend, a psychotic ganglord in the Red Neighbourhood named Ji, to assist him in tracking Alkland down, but something other than kidnapping is to blame for the old man's disappearance, tied into Alkland's past, into The City itself.

The City[edit]

The City is a sprawling mass of neighbourhoods, each one geared to the interests and tastes of its residents. Neighbourhoods in The City include:

  • Colour is where Stark lives along with his cat Spangle. Colour is one of the more easygoing neighbourhoods, where the only entry requirement is an appreciation of colour. The 'street colour co-ordinator computer' controls dynamic murals and streetlights which change colour to match or complement the clothes of nearby residents. Epileptics are banned from the neighbourhood as the constant shifting of colours could be dangerous to them. After 7pm residents venturing outdoors must wear the regulation black jacket, otherwise the street colour co-ordinator computer will sound the alert for an 'improperly dressed person'
  • Red is home to Ji and is an extremely dangerous neighbourhood. Controlled by feuding gang-lords, prostitution, gun-crime and drug culture are accepted pastimes of residents. Ji has his headquarters in a bar named BarJi, from here he plans and launches his takeover bids for other areas of the neighbourhood. Hu is generally accepted to be the most dangerous area of Red – an attack on Hu leads Ji to discover that his brother Snedd is one of the rival gang-lords that he was trying to kill. The two of them team up and together take over more of Red.
  • Turn is undescribed except for the fact that is claimed to be even rougher than Red. Its full name may be "Turn Again".
  • The Action Centre is a yuppie office worker's paradise. It's a hive of activity designed for those who have to be doing something all the time – every second is spent in advancement of their own interests and status is everything. Actioneers often sleep at their desks at night in order that no-one can sneak in and steal their hard earned places. The ACIA are the intelligence service of the Action Centre; its agents are identified by their violet cuff-links. The Action Centre is home to Zenda Renn and Fell Alkland.
  • Stable is a closed neighbourhood. The authorities zealously guard their neighbourhood against the outside world, its residents believe that they are the only survivors of a nuclear war. The windows to the outside are in fact vidscreens put in place by the authorities to perpetuate the belief that there is nothing but a radioactive wasteland beyond the city walls.
  • NatSci is a neighbourhood for geeks, its residents are all scientists and inventors. NatSci is a provider of technology to other neighbourhoods, including a weather control system to Stable and fast computers to the Action Centre. NatSci has a number of high tech facilities itself, including street cleaning robots which compete against each other to pick up litter.
  • Fnaph – Little is known about this neighbourhood except that its residents believe that the human soul is shaped like a Frisbee and spend their time bouncing on trampolines trying to fling themselves into heaven.
  • Idyll is a peaceful neighbourhood where Zenda Renn grew up.
  • Cat neighbourhood is inhabited solely by cats. Humans come and go, some to visit their cats, others to stay briefly in the neighbourhood hotels. All of the shops are well stocked and the neighbourhood is clean and tidy -apparently kept that way by the cats. The neighbourhood is entered through a set of iron gates which refuse to let anyone other than true cat lovers in.
  • Eastedge is a neighbourhood on the east coast of The City, bordering the sea.


External links[edit]