Intrusion, Ken MacLeod
Intrusion, Ken MacLeod
2012, Orbit, 387pp, £18.99
Hope Morrison has refused – for reasons she can’t herself articulate – to take the Fix, a magic bullet taken by pregnant women to improve disease resistance, repair any genetic conditions, and generally make more healthy babies before they are born. She is not the only one to refuse, but unlike the others she is not doing it for reasons of faith. Her first son, Nick, was also a “nature kid”. Hope is coming under pressure from teachers at Nick’s nursery school, the mums of the other kids, even the social services, all of whom want her to take the Fix.
In the near-future of Intrusion, MacLeod has posited a Blairite state in which the Labour Party rules with an iron hand and a fixed vision of a “free and social market”. According to Hope’s MP, who she meets at a rally, this means that the state makes decisions for consumers because those consumers cannot by definition have the perfect information a free market requires in order to be truly efficient. The War on Terror has also resulted in an intrusive state security apparatus, in which people are routinely stopped and tortured for information – none of which is admissible.
Complicating matters is the fact that Hope’s husband, Hugh, has visions of primitive humans and, as a child, once found an entrance to another world in a culvert near his childhood home on the Isle of Lewis.
Meanwhile, a researcher working on a thesis about working scientists has decided to aid Hope in her campaign to refuse the Fix, without Hope’s knowledge or consent. This makes things worse for both of them – the researcher, Geena, is targetted by the security services, as is Hope when she hand-delivers a complaint to her MP. Geena also discovers something peculiar about the DNA of Hugh and Nick, something which may be linked to their visions.
It all gets too much, so the Morrisons decamp to the home of Hugh’s parents on Lewis. But even there, they’re not safe. Especially when it turns out that Hugh owns an air pistol, which is highly illegal, and the authorities have learnt of his possession. It all comes to a head as the family try to escape to the world Hugh saw as a child in the culvert…
MacLeod’s last four novels have all been near-future thrillers, each of which took an abrupt swerve into heartland science fiction at the end (although The Restoration Game used a prologue to prime the reader for this swerve). In Intrusion – probably MacLeod’s best novel to date – the heartland science-fictional conceit of the novel is much better integrated and does, in part, actually drive the plot. The world MacLeod has built also rings frighteningly plausible – it’s a future Britain which should not only convince in its details as much as it does in its broad aspect, but also one that should make the reader angry.
Though the ultra-Blairism may make it seem as though Intrusion depicts a socialist state, it does not – and it would be a perversion to consider it to do so. In fact, socialism itself is considered the enemy of “a free and social market”. In a discussion with her thesis advisor, Ahmed, the conversation touches on the Naxals, a mysterious and anarchic terrorist group (and the enemy du jour of the book’s Western World):
‘The Naxals? But you said they weren’t–’
‘”Any kind of alternative, but rather an extreme form of the destructive tendencies of the global system itself”, yes, thank you, Geena, so I did.’
‘What alternative, then?’
‘The one that’s implicit in the system itself.’
‘Oh’. Geena felt disappointed. ‘Socialism. Like anybody would ever want that.’ (p 122 – 123)
I suspect there are those who are going to insist on reading the world of Intrusion as socialist, despite clear indicators it is not. Yet it is this degree of political engagement which makes the novel such a strong book. Its appearance of social liberalism is revealed time and again to be no more than a thin veneer on what is plainly a repressive state. Surveillance is pervasive – the cameras the Morrisons fit in their own home, for example, transmit to the local police station, and recordings from them are later used to justify action against the family. Britain is already the most surveilled nation on the planet – they say that twenty-five percent of all CCTV cameras are in the UK. The fact that we Brits accept this state of affairs – indeed we don’t even remark on it; we do not have the same attitude to privacy as the US – does not mean there is not a line that cannot be crossed. Even now, the Tories are proposing laws which would require ISPs to hold copies of all emails, browsing histories, etc. This is not data which can be captured once a person is under investigation by the police, but historical data through which they can trawl – the better, we are assured, to find evidence of wrongdoing.
All this might well lead readers of Intrusion to suspect that its world – despite the UK now having a Conservative (in all but name) government – is not so very far away. And perhaps in some aspects, that holds true. However, Intrusion describes a repressive state, a “nanny state” to the nth degree, and not one that has been dismantled and sold off to corporatist interests. It’s arguable which is the more dystopian, and it’s to MacLeod’s credit that in Intrusion he has created a near-future Britain which so convincingly extrapolates elements of today’s Britain.
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