For some reason Ken MacLeod was never really on my radar, God knows why, but thankfully I walked into Waterstones the other day and spunked a big wad of cash on books I probably should read. (For the nosey-parkers out there I picked up; Intrusion, The Death of Grass and The Man in the High Castle). intrusion ken macloed book cover

Intrusion is one of those sci-fi books that dances around the edges of reality a little too closely for comfort. It is set maybe two or three generations into the future and takes place between London and Lewis. Hugh and Hope Morrison are a youngish couple with one son and another on the way who live in London but have family in Lewis. Genetic engineering has progressed to the point that it is now seen as a “human right” for all newborns to be genetically protected from disease and Hope is faced with the decision of whether to accept this new “medicine” and comply with the collective views of society. As is common in so many current sci-fi novels the climate is greatly changed with long cold winters forming one of the backdrops to the story.

Another reviewer linked this novel to Brain Aldiss’ “cosy catastrophe” and I completely agree with that assessment. Nobody in this novel is inherently evil, nobody commits what they personally view as atrocities, bullets never fly and nobody seems to realise that what they’re doing is wrong. When Hope is chided for hand-delivering a letter to her local M.P. he tells her with reproachful good reason that “we have to treat that as a terrorist attempt”. When a minor character is subject to a not-so-random stop and search and tortured she is directed to a local trauma counsellor on her release.

There are so many issues in this novel that relate to our current political and sociological systems. Mainstream protests take place, but they are organised, controlled and benignly earnest; becoming almost like an excited teenager firing blanks into his own hand e.g. pretty pointless as far as radical change is concerned. Polite questioning and enquiries into what the bloody hell is going on ends you up on some mechanised database somewhere in the basement of a faceless public body where an over-zealous office clerk waits for your questions to exceed the permitted amount and trigger an automated chain of events. The fears of terrorism and the utter chaos that would result if British citizens couldn’t access their daily pint of milk have been misused to allow the acceptance of a state devoid of any real public dissent and critical analysis. And, finally, women’s rights have been eroded in the name of “Public Health” with the control of contraception, pregnancy and child rearing willingly and blindly transferred to the State – a kind of benign Labour party dictatorship. The phrases “Like lambs to the slaughter” and “From the cradle to the grave” spring to mind.

If, like me, you are concerned about continuing encroachments on our civil rights and privacy (and here I would specifically draw attention to the proposed U.K. “emergency” surveillance legislation) you will find this novel to be both a fascinating critique of current political and sociological environments and behaviours and a worrying look at one of the paths we could potentially go down as a state. Again, if you have an interest in technology, medical science and ethics then you will also probably find this novel a good read. It may not be for everyone but, I would still highly recommend it and will be adding it to my list of shit I really like.

If you’re feeling dead brainy and want to listen to other brainy people discussing G.M., democratic consultation, ethics, consent and public perception then check out this hour-long debate featuring Ken MacLeod, Be warned, it’s a bit heavy-going:

– Jen




What I read this week…”Intrusion” by Ken MacLeod (2012)
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