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I'd been looking forward to this book, and it was definitely worth the wait.

As with MacLeod's other recent books, "Intrusion" is set in a very credible near-future which initially bears more resemblance to a thriller than to science fiction. It is, I think, really three books in one. The opening section is the one described in the blurb. Mother to be Hope faces a dilemma: whether to take "the fix", a marvel of "syn bio" (the endpoint of systematic genetic engineering) which would "cure" any potential genetic abnormalities of her future child.

The Fix isn't compulsory - not exactly - but this is a world where the needs of the foetus are placed so far ahead of those of the mother that most women of childbearing age can't work (whether pregnant or not) in case they encounter decades old "fourth hand smoke" seeping from the structure of the workplace. They are strongly encouraged to wear monitor rings, which record any contact with noxious substances, and are banned from drinking alcohol unless provably not pregnant.

Methods of persuasion are therefore employed to encourage Hope to take the Fix. She would have a get out if she claimed to be religious, but she isn't. What should she do?

MacLeod portrays a scary future, a creepy, surveiled world where - for society's good - AIs trawl one's phone logs and movement records, putting 2 and 2 together, and no adult would dare be alone with a child unless monitored by cameras.

The second theme develops from this and is summarised in a conversation between postdoc Geena and her supervisor. Geena is observing a group of Syn Bio engineers for her research into how science is done, but has run into a little trouble and asks for help. Here the dialogue which this book seems to be having with Nineteen Eighty-four becomes overt - even with some phrases of Orwell's repeated. But it is also, I think, playing with themes from another dystopia, Brave New World.

In one, control of society is achieved by brutality, surveillance, austerity and militarisation. In the other, it's done through comfort and plenty. In "Intrusion" there is a world of apparent comfort and plenty with no apparent external threats (apart from a degree of paranoia over foreign insurgents). In each case, though, the result is the same - total control - and the same question applies: in the words of both Winston Smith and of Geena: "I understand how, but I don't understand why".

In "Nineteen Eighty Four", the answer is repugnant - power for its own sake - but somehow makes sense. One can see a way out: overthrow the Party. In "Intrusion", I take MacLeod to be saying that there isn't a reason. Nobody actually seeks power. The control and coercion is something that society is doing to itself, always with the best of intentions. There is nothing to overthrow, nothing to resist, because everyone is complicit. "They got me a long time ago". That is, to me, actually much scarier and rather more plausible.

The third theme in this book is the SF plot, to which focus turns in the final third, and I won't say much about it because it would be a shame to give too much away. It has to do with the past and the future, and perhaps does offer a way out.

Overall this was is a gripping novel, with plenty happening, full of ideas and with some nail biting action. Strongly recommended.
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on 26 February 2012
I was delighted to see the stark white cover of Macleod's latest on the bookshop shelves - and it didn't disappoint. Many writers describe dystopias and utopias, few plot a plausible path from here to there. Macleod succeeds in depicting the sinister and insidious descent into a particularly British kind of authoritarianism. The prevailing ideology is the 'free and social market' where the state makes for you the choices you would have made if you were a rational actor with perfect information in a free market. Interrogation and torture are ritualised in a relatively painless but psychologically disturbing manner. You can 'dissent' from prevailing norms, but only if you subscribe to an approved list of beliefs permitting conscientious objection.

Within this society (and a relatively 'low tech' near future compared to some of his novels) Macleod weaves a story of a not-so ordinary family spread across suburbia and the highlands, with a semi-mystical sub-plot and subtle sting in the tail, which is well planned and foreshadowed to unite the two plots. 'Subtle' is a good word to sum up the book, which quietly implants all sorts of doubts about our direction of travel more effectively than a dozen libertarian rants. Macleod also picks up on recurring themes of barbarism, environmentalism and terrorism, which will be familiar to those who have followed him since the Fall Revolution novels.
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on 4 June 2012
This is a lovely exploration of the dystopian consequences of the sort of directions popular in politics of the early 21st century: the precautionary principle, nudges, and generally the points at which the nanny state changes from Mary Poppins to something out of Roald Dahl.

You can hear a few axes ground - Ken Macleod is not keen on the smoking ban - but there are points which get actually alarming; certainly it's a book you can argue with but it's well worth the rating.
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on 20 April 2013
The title of this novel refers to the 'Fix', a genetic 'cleanser' that does away with any abnormalities in unborn babies. Hope Morrison is an ordinary working Mum who has a young boy, and is pregnant again but she does not want to take the the Fix. If she had a 'faith' objection there would be no problem in her missing it, but since she does not, the state intrudes with the excuse of supporting the 'rights' of the unborn child. And then things start to escalate...

Along the way there are many genuinely funny elements to this book. The caricatures of a Labour MP who stands for nothing beyond his own self interest and a Marxist academic who writes about rebellion but who sold out years ago are delightful. But this novel has a heart of darkness, just like '1984'. There is no escape from the petty rules and regulations that smother freedom, and no hiding place from the ever present surveillance. Despite pretending to live in a free society, everyone knows about the 'grey' gulags and the police do what they want to suspects who are offered free trauma counseling afterwards.

Ironically, there is something different about Hope's child, which is suspected by her husband and his family in Skye, which is where Hope flees in a fruitless bid to escape. The most dystopian element in this book is the lack of an obvious fix for this moribund society, as the only ways forward seem to be either through an 'exit' that only exists in the perception of a few with the right genes or burning everything down and starting again.
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on 14 August 2012
It's not giving anything away to mention this book is about the social, political and security consequences that follow Hope Morrison's decision not to take the "Fix", a wonder drug that if taken during pregnancy "fixes" the genes of the baby in the womb with the result that the child is born immune to a range of childhood illnesses.

I was rather disappointed with the start of this novel as it fell into the trap of any novel written with a message. The first few chapters made it feel like a book written to give a message. These chapters dealt with introducing the characters, giving some background indications of the state of technology and the global political situation, and edging the reader into the space where issues of freedom, choice and liberty could come to the fore. I won't spoil the book by giving away specifics, but I felt the roles played by the characters were a bit stereotypical and everything was focused on setting the story up for the message and nothing included for window dressing or decoration. Sub plots do not play a significant part in this book.

Once Hope meets her local Member of Parliament at a rally for the Labour Party the book does step up a gear and the action flows much faster from there on in.

Ken wrote this book while he was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University. As is obvious from his blog and other publications, Ken loved his work with the Genomic Forum and it was only natural that he should write a book on the subject and that he should weave in his excellent understanding of social issues and politics.

The message I took from the book was that a country that is implementing policies and laws based on good intentions in relation to childcare, health, etc... could display all the hallmarks of a totalitarian state, especially if the global socio-political environment gives rise to strong security agencies. I got a hint of Ken complaining abut the "Nanny State" and venting some irritation against the smoking ban in the UK. If I were a psychologist I'm sure I could interpret this entire novel as a lash at the UK government for banning smoking in workplaces.

I was disappointed however, to see Ken regularly using singular verbs with plural subjects in his reported speech. It doesn't help the standard of English usage if a well regarded author reinforces sloppy grammar.

Ken was good at portraying the feeling of living in a state where the population is constantly under surveillance. While the level of technology was different his writing did remind me of when I lived in Northern Ireland during the 1970s with constant surveillance by the army and police. The interactions with the members of the security forces were particularly realistic.

I enjoyed Ken's descriptions of Lewis. Given that the author grew up on Lewis it is obvious where he got his material and he demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the difficulties of traversing it on foot.

Another attractive element was seeing the similarities between Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic. All the Gaelic words Ken used are pronounced the same way in Irish Gaelic, but the spellings are quite different. Also, the legend of Tir Nan Og (in Irish, "Tír na nÓg") is obviously the same on both sides of the North Channel. If you are not familiar with the tales of Tir Nan Og you should look them up. Knowledge of these would give a better understanding of what happens at the end of the book.

The book is a good read once one gets past the initial introductions and scene setting. Despite some silly, and somewhat extraordinary decisions by the characters, the book is enjoyable.
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on 20 July 2012
Intrusion is a reflection on the most ridiculous levels of rules, regulations and stupid laws our governments have imposed upon the already law abiding citizen over that past 15 years, and extrapolating to a probable future. Laws designed, possibly, with the "best will" in mind, suffering from feature and scope creep. For example, having your collar felt for taking legitimate photographs in public places such as your local high street.

After I read this book I caught a few minutes of one of those "Traffic Cops" programmes aired on the Dave channel. Some poor bloke and his wife had misread their ferry departure time, turned in their transit van up 12 hours early and were unable to board the one that was leaving there and then. They decided to leave the van at the terminal and head off for some lunch and a pint then sit out their wait later on. Some busybody reported the van to the police as "suspicious" which of course then turns this into a "terrorist" threat.

The cops are about ready to call in backup when the owners return and explain why they left the van. Despite their explanation the cops insist this could be a terrorist threat and start quoting all sorts of sections of "terrorism" law to give them an excuse to nosey about their van etc. Surely if the cops had contacted the ferry operator and quoted the vehicle number plate the confusion and "threat" would have been cleared up instantly. But common sense never prevails in the face of an excuse to escalate fear levels and control.

This book is a story about where we're heading, every innocent lawful resistive action becomes a small red mark on one's record leading up to invasion by the state "for our own good".
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on 8 April 2012
I am glad I bought this outright rather than just relied on the free first chapter you can get on Kindle. That would really have put me off. However other readers might have liked the setup of a future where there really is no privacy at all. Nor would I have liked the protagonist who was pregnant woman who decides she just does not want the pill which corrects or prevents a host of childhood illnesses. She is also unwilling to just pretend to have a faith in order to have her way. But Ken MacLeod wrote this book in such a way that I found I warmed to the character and was rooting for her and her husband by the end. This is why he is one of Scotland's greatest writers. To pull off a trick like that needs skill. The milieu felt similar to The Execution Channel and also had a little bit of political exposition which I did not understand at all. But overall I liked this book and am glad I bought it.
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on 8 March 2012
I have to admit that when I first started the book I did so with some trepidation. I love Ken's books but have found myself to be a little disappointed by his later offerings, as his first few books were so good.

The first few pages had me rather worried because they seemed rather banal. But I shouldn't have worried. Just when I wondered just how many times he was going to describe the putting on and taking off of coats, he turned it all up a few notches. And it all started getting very very interesting. Not only with the "action" but also on a philosophical level. His explorations of freedom, both private and public, are excellent and thought provoking. His development of the different strands are as good as his earlier books. For me to say anymore would be to spoil the story.

Yes, there are sections that require rereading. But that just points to a well written narrative in my eyes. It is not fluff for the early morning commute. It's a book to be read on a comfy sofa, with a good drink and no distractions.

On another level, I did read the book with a big smirk on my face, because it could have been written specifically for me. Born and raised in Southall? Check. Had lived in Hayes and Uxbridge? Check? Studied at Brunel University? Check. Had done a degree in sociology? Check. So the references to places and subjects made it all the better.

Well done, Ken, for a return to form. Let's hope you are working on another, equally good, read.
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on 7 November 2013
Intrusion is set in the near future, and for the most part is an all too believable account of how we could slip into a 'benign' authoritarian state. In MacLeod's dystopia the Government's drive to ban activities thought to injure public health, and the war against terror, come together to justify mass surveillance, torture, and the arbitrary detention of those refusing to conform.

By coincidence I read this just as the leaks about the surveillance carried out by the NSA and GCHQ were becoming public, and this just reinforced the fact that MacLeod's vision of the future is all too believable. And I have since found out that some of the technical ideas that seemed a bit far fetched, are not actually so far fetched after all. So, for example the book even refers to a ring that pregnant women are supposed to wear to detect whether they have been drinking or smoking, and it turns out that a device like this is already available.

One of the things I have always enjoyed about Ken MacLeod's novels is the way he uses them to take pot shots at contemporary political movements and social developments that irk him. Intrusion is no exception, and his usual list of suspects - the Labour Party, environmentalists, and smoking bans - are all duly excoriated. We know from earlier novels that wind turbines are another topic which clearly irk MacCleod, but he has clearly worked up a head of steam about them because Intrusion in parts feels like an extended diatribe against wind power. His anti wind energy polemic is both factually wrong, but more importantly gets in the way of the plot in Intrusion.

If MacLeod wants to join UKIP, Nigel Lawson, and the Tory Tea Party tendency, in opposing wind power that's up to him; but from a literary point of view he needs to decide whether he wants to be a fiction writer or fringe political pamphleteer.

Having said all that, there is more than enough good stuff in Intrusion to make it a worthwhile read, and hopefully it will appeal to more than just a traditional science fiction audience.
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on 7 July 2013
Set in a dystopian future two or three generations from now, this is a genuinely creepy look at a totally plausible outcome from today's scares about health and the debate about how far the 'nanny state' should intrude into people's lives. The concept is based on one which a dreadfully Orwellian MP outlines to the central character; people should be allowed to make their own choices based on the best possible information, as people cannot be expected or trusted with this information the state should impose the choice that they could be expected to have made if this information was available. Therefore freewill in matters of health and other areas should be curtailed by the state. Much of this novel rings dreadfully true, with women being encouraged to wear monitor rings to ensure they don't consume 'harmful' substances if there is any risk of their being pregnant, with home security systems being installed to record any possible domestic abuse, and with fears surrounding extreme health and safety forcing women especially to work from home. Society is shown as being almost totally reliant on information devices not only mobile phones but also computing devices which are essentially the same as the Google glasses recently unveiled. These devices coupled with the monitor rings, are able to track and inform the sate of every move and every transgression made by individuals, all of which are recorded and can be used in criminal and family actions. Social services are active in all walks of life, and along with police 'questioning' methods are used to ensure that people all stay in line.
The whole concept feels frighteningly possible, and while avoiding most of the shock tactics used by other dystopian style visions of the future, manages to build to an even more terrifying whole. Much of the technology mentioned appears to be essentially new generation versions of current items, glasses which connect to the internet, apps which reveal details of surroundings and other people, and even bracelets to monitor alcohol intake are all in existence now, and this novel merely takes their application to a new, yet understandable level. With the news being increasingly full of stories about the need to ensure people only make 'good' choices in terms of diet, exercise and welfare in general; presumably as a cover to mask other more important issues about the political society in which we live, this version of the future seems highly plausible.
The side story which touches upon the hidden possibilities of mutations to the human genome, was interesting; as was the argument that in striving to 'cure' diseases and genetic 'errors' we risk losing evolutionary possibilities.
Overall this was an extremely well written work, which I do not hesitate to recommend to anyone who has enjoyed novels such as When She Woke, 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale.
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