Intrusion by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2012, 387p.

 The Intrusion cover

It’s not often you read a Science Fiction novel partly set on the Isle of Lewis but if you’ve been seeking one out you need look no further. Congratulations to MacLeod for his courage in that regard. One of Intrusion’s characters, Hugh Morrison, was brought up there but MacLeod also manages to work in to his narrative an oblique reference to the early 2000s child abuse scandal on Lewis. The Lewis setting is not tacked on, though, Lewis is integral to the plot but the action also features London.

Sometime in the near future, solar cells in the Sahara have rendered conventional power stations and other renewables such as windfarms obsolete. A Warm War is in train with Russia as the main “enemy” and anti-technology terrorists known as NAXAL hold sway over parts of Asia. In the UK, anti-terrorism legislation has led to greater police powers (including an acceptance of torture) and an aggressive safety culture means women are gradually being eased from the workplace and wear monitor rings to ensure they are not exposed to harmful agents – tobacco, alcohol, drugs – especially while they are pregnant. A pill known as the “Fix” corrects possibly harmful mutations in the womb and provides a type of immunisation against minor ailments. While religious exemptions from taking the Fix are allowed, distinctions are made between “new” kids, “faith” kids and “nature” kids.

Hugh and his wife Hope have had one nature kid and she is pregnant again. A lot of the plot centres round the efforts of those in authority to persuade her to take the Fix and her unwillingness to do so. In the meantime interactions between tachyons and rhodopsin may provide an explanation for the “second sight” not uncommon in Lewis.

Given the ongoing encroachment on civil liberties in the UK, the pusillanimity of politicians towards safeguards (well satirised here in the words of a Labour MP,) the police state MacLeod gives us is not too far-fetched. Second sight as tachyon-mediated visions from another world is a bit more problematic, though.

The title works on several levels. There is the intrusion of the state into private life (and of the police into public life,) there is the possible intrusion of tachyons into the real world and Hugh’s experiences of another world (“the summer beyond the winter”) impinging on Lewis. In this respect the Fix is nothing but a Mcguffin, though it too is an intrusion; into the natural process. Yes, it has a plot function but the timescale seems wrong for such a powerful technology to have been so thoroughly assimilated by the society MacLeod depicts – which is not too far from our own.

Everything rolls along merrily, MacLeod’s characters are entirely believable and the story’s internal logic holds water. Intrusion is not perhaps quite up there with MacLeod’s best but it’s still well written, entertaining and thought-provoking.

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