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Intrusion Paperback – 7 Mar 2013
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Insightful and ingenious . . . Intrusion is both horrific and comic, and deals movingly with the consequences of genetic fixes (GUARDIAN)
A steely, brilliant piece of work (DAILY TELEGRAPH)
A disturbing and critically acclaimed novel with sinister echoes of 1984 and BRAVE NEW WORLD, from the award-winning author described by SFX as 'the modern day George Orwell'See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
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.
It starts with 'the fix'. Hope is pregnant with her second child and, due to a court case involving an atheist Iranian couple, comes under increasing pressure to take a pill that will not only protect her child from many of the common childhood diseases, but will also fix any genetic abnormalities. But Hope does not want to take 'the fix' for reasons that are never really clear, even to herself. It is a matter of choice, but a choice that many, even most, see as a 'no-brainer'. If swallowing a single pill could prevent misery to her child and, by the by, save society a deal of money into the bargain, who in their right minds would say no? But Hope does say no. And she is saying no, not only to a Brave New World, but to a stagnant humanity - good or bad. Are all genetic abnormalities inevitably deleterious? Would not taking such a pill mean that someone else has decided what is 'normal', what is good for society, above the rights of the individual? Of course, some people do opt out. There is an opt out for those with religious convictions - but really they are merely tolerated. And for an atheist to opt out is considered simply bizarre and anti-social.
On top of that, it seems that there is a basic underlying agreement, an unspoken compact between civil society and state authority. This is the 'free and social market', a precarious balance that, in a passage that owes more perhaps to Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor than Orwell, seems to describe the logical end point of some form of New Labour ideology. Geena's university lecturer spells it out to her when she comes running to him after a 'routine' bout of torture courtesy of the local constabulary:
'...the most important task in politics has become preventing people from realising that they're already almost there. That train has left the station. We've already crossed the border. State-capitalism can flip over - or rather, can be flipped over, overturned - into socialism in the blink of an eye, the moment people become conscious of the possibility. The point is to prevent them becoming conscious. Both sides already have relative abundance, universal education, extensive planning, formal democracy. Imagine the horror if people got it into their heads to put all these together for the purpose of, let's say, liberty, equality, fraternity!' (P123)
The politics and the technology are completely believable. And chilling. Echoing current discussions about the world wide web, the difference between a liberating and an oppressive, controlling technology seems merely to be one of attitude or, perhaps, ideology.
As an exposition and exploration of trends already visible all around us, this is a powerful book. But as a novel it's not so great. The politics are central, with the result that the characterisation suffers. I found it really quite difficult to 'believe' in Hope and Hugh, Geena and Maya - they seemed two-dimensional and unsympathetic and I didn't really care enough about them to get particularly worked up about their fate.
So, in all, this is a great book of ideas. It is a clear-sighted vision of some of the possible (even probable) directions in which our society is developing. But that vision is too strong for the characters to be much more than cyphers. Compared to the rumbustious and thoroughly likeable Mo Cohen of The Star Fraction or even the Travis family in The Execution Channel, Hope, Hugh, Nick, Geena and all never really 'came alive' for me. For all that, this is still a chilling and prophetic novel.
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.