Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
Published: Orbit, 2012
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Campbell Memorial, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards
“Do you believe people should be free to make their own personal choices? What if they don’t choose what you believe is right? In a perfect world, where everyone has access to all information, perhaps everyone would make the ‘right’ choices. Since we don’t live in this perfect world, maybe imperfectly informed individuals need to be protected from making the ‘wrong’ choices. Then again, to what authority could we comfortably surrender that responsibility?
In a near future world with advanced technology, a pill (the Fix) has been developed that, when taken by a pregnant mother, cleanses her fetus’s DNA of any potentially troubling content. Hope Morrison is pregnant with her second child, and she does not want to take the Fix. She also refuses to give her decision any socially acceptable justification. In a state that increasingly controls the bodies of its people, in a world that is threatened by nihilistic anti-civilization terrorists, no personal decision is allowed to be as simple and harmless as it first appears.” ~Allie
This is the second novel I’ve read by Ken MacLeod, the first being “The Night Sessions”, which addresses how artificial intelligence might fit within religion. I bought a signed copy of Intrusion at last year’s WorldCon, LonCon3!
This is one of the scariest dystopian novels that I’ve ever read, most likely because it is very easy to imagine a similar society rising out of our current world. The central story involves a young couple, Hope and Hugh, whose second child is on the way. Hope does not intend to take the Fix, and refuses to give a rationale for her decision. This doesn’t seem like it should be a problem, since the Fix is not yet legally compulsory, and plenty of parents choose not to take it for religious or philosophical reasons. However, due to the current political climate, what should be a quiet personal decision begins to be escalated to extreme levels. From my perspective, her refusal to justify herself is exactly the point of the situation. It is a question of whether or not Hope has a right to bodily integrity and to make choices for her unborn child. Once one starts judging the case based on whether or not the reasons behind her decisions are acceptable enough, one has already answered the previous question in the negative.
This is far from the only difficult issue the story grapples with, through Hope and Hugh as well as through a few secondary characters. For instance, there was exploration about the compromises made between safety and privacy, in a populace whose monitored lives risk being flagged as suspicious by impersonal computing algorithms. Similarly, how much should a government intrude in people’s lives ‘for their own good’? This falls most heavily on women of child-bearing age, who face many restrictions on their lives, ostensibly for the good of a potential fetus. There are also discussions about about civil liberty, terrorism, and governmental use of physical torture. Things could get quite information-dense and confusing at times, especially since I am not particularly well versed in modern-day UK politics and the culture of the island of Lewis. Realistically, though, there are no simple solutions to ‘fix’ society.
This is definitely a book I will remember for a long time for its ideas, though it did not seem to spend quite as much time developing its characters. I felt a bit like the characters were held at arm’s length--observed through their words and actions, but never allowed to be fully understood. The existence of Hugh’s second sight, also, seemed a strangely fantastical addition to an otherwise grounded near-future dystopian story. I appreciated its role in clarifying the motivations of Hope’s decision, but I did not really understand why it needed to be supernatural. From my perspective, at least, the ideas were so compelling that these minor complaints seem small in comparison.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Intrusion paints a terrifying picture of a dystopian society with policies that do not feel very far removed from those in place in many societies today. The novel covers many topics in the uneasy relationship between the state and the individual, including, among other things, rights to privacy and to bodily integrity. The story escalates from the decision of a young married woman, Hope, to not take a genetic Fix for her unborn child, and her refusal to provide a socially accepted reason for her choice. While I thought the characters were somewhat distant and the inclusion of one slightly fantastical element seemed a little off tone, I was deeply affected by the topics explored. I think this is a frighteningly plausible dystopia that deserves many readers.