By Ken MacLeod
Published by Orbit
ISBN-10: 1841499404, ISBN-13: 978-1841499406
Buy this book from from Amazon UK
How much of a child's health and wellbeing should depend on the parents? When is it acceptable for this to come under state control? These are the questions presented to the reader in Ken Macleod's novel, 'Intrusion' – a dystopian vision of a future where genetics is incredibly advanced and well-understood. Here, it is simply a matter of popping a pill during pregnancy - aptly named, 'The Fix' - in order to bring about the deletion of any genetic defects in the fetus.
From the first sentence, it is clear what type of future is a reality for the Morrison family - cameras have been installed in every room of their London home by the father, Hugh. This, we are told, is what 'any responsible father' would do. But on a regular weekday morning we soon learn how the family deviates from societal norms when the mother, Hope, drops her young son off at school. He is a 'Nature Kid' (his mother not having chosen to take 'the Fix'), and the only one in his school.
Hope soon returns home and begins her day's work answering queries in China - without having any knowledge of the language herself - all accessed through a pair of wraparound glasses. She receives a phone call from her son's school and is told that Nick is coming down with the 'sniffles' and needs to be collected, otherwise he would make the other kids ill. It is apparent that Nick's position is at the bottom of the social heap, below even those children whose mothers did not take 'The Fix' on religious grounds.
Hope is in the early stages of her second pregnancy and is facing the decision whether or not to take 'The Fix'. She discovers a thread on an online forum with the worrying title 'Nature Kids Now Illegal?', and ponders over the flurry of comments with her hand held protectively over her tummy; a judicial ruling in favour of a husband after a marital break down and his wish for his pregnant wife to take 'The Fix'. Those in support of the judge's ruling are adamant this is 'in the future child's favour'. It is against this backdrop of increasing disapproval towards those refusing to take 'The Fix' that Hope begins to grapple with her own decision.
The author cleverly weaves interesting details into the story of everyday realities in this world, bulking out this rather simple tale to give a more three-dimensional feel. For example, Hope is shocked and surprised when, outside of London and for the first time she can remember, she observes a school that is not closed off to prying eyes, such is the level of safe guarding in place to protect children from the world. This is a fear that is prevalent today, along with terrorism and climate change - both alluded to in the narrative - but the solution to these issues in this vision of the future has very evidently resulted in a claustrophobic, surveillance-heavy world. Police have the power to invent a reason to haul anyone off the street but at least are thoughtful enough to sterilise the pin used in torture.
Anyone preferring novels filled with detail and character development may wish to steer clear, as in this pared-back tale it is definitely the storyline that takes centre stage. Having said this, the lack of characterisation did work well as a device to convey the sterile landscape of this bleak future. Furthermore, the real litmus test for the characters and the novel as a whole arrives during the final few chapters when the constrained, controlled world of Hope, Hugh and Nick starts to fall apart. The State transforms from a shadowy, indistinct thing held at a safe distance behind the screen of a CCTV camera or drone, to being represented through actual people with a frightening degree of authority. From this perspective the novel is a success, as the future of the Morrison family is genuinely concerning and the pace quickens as the stakes mount.
For anyone wishing to dip into the world of science fiction, this novel is a good, thought-provoking taster. The novel explores interesting themes and capitalises on some of the very real worries that we have today about the consequences of advances in science and technology, but particularly genetics.
Buy How We Live and Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells from Amazon UK.