Details: (c) Michael Marshall Smith 1998; Pub 1999 HarperCollins; ISBN 0-00-649997-X
Verdict: One of us is readable yet more profound than it appears.
Reasons for reading it: I really, really loved Only Forward by the same author.
How it came into my hands: Brighton charity shops.
One of us is a really exciting story. It very much hit my reading pleasure buttons; I was absolutely caught up in the action, and the worldbuilding, and cared about the characters, and I really enjoyed the way the background philosophical system and character histories were unfolded at just the right pace. The trouble is, it feels like a slighter and less skilled reworking of Only forward, something that people did warn me about when I was enthusing about the earlier book.
Like Only forward, One of us gives us a viewpoint character who is sympathetic even though he is violent, sexist and rather unreflective. Like Only forward, the story starts off with lots of violence in a zany futuristic tech setting, but then develops a more thoughtful spiritual and philosophical backdrop. The problem is that the spirituality portrayed here is rather bland new-agey post-Christian stuff. There are some quite cute ideas about the Invisible ones and about how Jesus' original message became distorted as Christianity became entrenched in power structures, but it's not terribly original or profound. The fact that the major crisis at the end is resolved almost literally by a deus ex machina is unsatisfying both at the story level and at the theological level.
The presentation of Hap as a complex character doesn't entirely work; the gradually revealed background which provides a watertight excuse to make him still a decent guy even though he carried out an armed robbery is rather contrived. The arc involving his relationship with Helena verges into soppiness rather fast, and again, the excuses provided by the narrative for the "boy loses girl" bit of the plot shape are just too convenient to sustain my suspension of disbelief. To be fair, there's some really lovely description of a meeting between people who had previously been a couple and still have feelings for eachother.
The other thing that annoyed me was that the dialogue and setting don't feel convincingly American at all. (I can't blame Smith for the fact that I was confused for most of the book because of not figuring out that Venice is a district of LA, rather than a city in Italy.) Also, there is far far too much polemic against smoking restrictions. It could have been a nice background detail, but it ends up being a huge rant which has to be highlighted in almost every scene.
The plot is fun and zany and twisty, and I liked the alien abduction stuff, and the criminal thriller elements. But the weaknesses tend to overwhelm the strengths, unfortunately.