SPARES is an odd little book. It was Michael Marshall Smith’s second novel(these days he writes under the name Michael Marshall and M. M. Smith as well). It’s set a hundred years in the future and is filled with all sorts of weird things. New Richmond is a city that was once a giant flying shopping mall. Now it sits unmoving, several hundred floors high and one’s status is determined by how high up the line you live.
Jack Randal is an ex-cop with a drug problem brought on by his military service as well as a mental breakdown after his wife and child’s murder. He works on a spares farm, a place where the rich keep pens of their insurance policies: clones for spare parts in case of accident or illness. They are supposed to have no consciousness.
Things go along fine until Randal overdoses and is nursed back to health by a maintenance ‘bot. He gets it into his head to start teaching the clones in secret(he’s the only “regular” human on the farm), letting them out of their pens and starting a reading and writing program for them.
Everything goes swimmingly until medics show up one day to take most of the major organs from one clone and she speaks up, begging them not to do it. The rich in charge are alarmed of course and Randal takes action, breaking out with some of the more intelligent ones, and heads for New Richmond to get help from some of his old comrades.
The authorities are out to stop him. A contract is put out, one of his friends is murdered trying to help, and attempts are made to capture the little band.
If all this sounds a little familiar, there was a movie made called The Island. SPARES was published in 1996 and the movie rights were snapped up, though a film was never made. The Island came out in 2005. You do the math. Smith didn’t consider it worthwhile to pursue action.
Smith’s books all are just slightly off-kilter from what you might expect. I do like his work though.