Ken MacLeod, Intrusion (2012)

The thing about choice is, there are so many variables. In the future of Ken MacLeod’s Intrusion, there is a “free and social market” to give people a hand with all that choice. As the protagonist’s MP explains:

For the market to be really free, it has to work as if everyone involved had perfect information…This is where the social side comes from – the state…steps in to allow people to make the choices they would have made if they’d had that information. Because these are the really free choices (p. 147, italics in original).

This sort of pernicious rhetoric has pervaded government and society in the novel: licensed venues don’t allow music or swearing (“Creating a hostile environment,” p. 28); hand-delivering a letter to your MP is considered a possible act of terrorism (who knows what could be inside, and why didn’t you use the official channels?). It’s absurd, but this is the world in which MacLeod’s characters find themselves all the same.

The particular development which provides Intrusion’s impetus is a pill called “the fix”, which a pregnant woman can take to safely eliminate genetic defects from her developing baby. I say “can”, but talking the fix is on its way to becoming compulsory in England, unless you have a legitimate objection. Faith-based objections are fine, and there are various acceptable humanist justifications available; so more or less anyone who objects to taking the fix has a way out. No problems, eh?

No problems, that is, unless you don’t really have a reason for objecting to the fix – unless you simply don’t want to. This is the situation of Hope Morrison, expecting her second child, who can’t honestly commit to any of the stances that would permit her not to take the fix. The saying goes that nature abhors a vacuum, and the authorities in Intrusion abhor people like Hope, because they cannot put these individuals into boxes, and hence cannot understand them – and who knows what such people might do?

The main engine of Intrusion’s plot (particularly in its latter half) is the Morrison family’s attempt to escape London for a now-independent Scotland (where Hope’s husband Hugh was born) – but it is in MacLeod’s portrait of his future society that the novel shines most brightly. Several times, we see how the authorities cross-reference online traces and other seemingly-unremarkable points of data, and infer that someone might be a security risk – and the first they know of it is when the police come for them. This mirrors the novel’s sense that isolated bits of rhetoric have cohered invisibly to form the framework of government ideology; which can also be a net to trap the unwary, as Hope and other characters discover. The ending of Intrusion is also built on the idea of isolated details coming together unexpectedly, which is a satisfying touch.

Perhaps what’s most chilling about Intrusion is its quietness. As terrible as the society and events of MacLeod’s novel can be, its prose treats them largely as banal, which is quite fitting for the insidious way they’ve come about. Intrusion is likewise a book that creeps up on you – and stays there, just out of sight, waiting.

This book has been shortlisted for the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award. Click here to read my other posts on this year’s Award.