In the early history of SF, authors used the medium with various intentions. Many books could be regarded as wish fulfilment but SF lends itself to serious prediction, satire and dire warnings. In more modern SF, there is often an overlap. Writers look at modern trends and extrapolate. They may take us out to a hopeful future where we find ways of exploring the universe and settling new planets or they may consider the less salubrious parts of our society and take a pessimistic, dystopian view. Yet those living the changes might not consider them bad until they reach a tipping point and, looking back, we wonder how we got into this state.
In his last few novels, Ken MacLeod has taken a topical theme and considered how far it could go if it was allowed free reign. ‘The Execution Channel’ combined the fascination for reality TV with a tendency for everything to be recorded and broadcast (do something insane, film yourself doing it on your mobile and put it on YouTube). Throw in the proliferation of cameras everywhere watching us and the idea of extraordinary rendition and you have a TV reality channel that broadcasts deaths. ‘The Night Sessions’ has a main character who ascribes to Divine Creation and where the belief has accrued considerable political weight in some parts of the world.
‘Intrusion’ is an examination of the Nanny State. It isn’t just the number of cameras that watch everything you do inside and outside the home. It goes deeper and female readers in particular will find some aspects of this society a deeply disturbing future prediction. The focus is the welfare of the child. Every woman of reproductive age is required to wear a ring which measures alcohol intake, cigarette fumes (passively smoked) and a range of other factors intended to persuade the wearer to a healthy life-style. It detects when a woman becomes pregnant, at which point the law requires absolute abstinence and active avoidance of places where smoke may be inhaled. Any infringement results in a visit by a social worker with a warning that the child will be removed at birth if a second infringement occurs. They are also expected to take a pill which correct any genetic defects and provide immunisation. You can refuse but need very good grounds, such as religious conviction. Just thinking this attitude is wrong is not good enough and anyone without strong reasons is pressurised into taking The Fix. After all, it is for the welfare of the child. If you don’t, you could be accused of neglect and have your children taken away.
Hope finds herself in just that situation. Her first child, Nick, was a Natural. She refused The Fix. Now she finds she is not only fighting against the government but against those prejudiced mothers who see no reason for her to refuse and who see Nick’s every sniffle as a threat against their children. Her husband, Hugh, is prepared to support her decision, whatever it is. To escape the persecution, they decide to go to Lewis, Hugh’s childhood home and where his parents still live, for a visit while Hope decides whether to fight or give in. At the time when ‘Intrusion’ is set, the boom in wind farms for green power is over. A new, non-polluting power means that the blades are no longer needed. When Hugh was a boy, his father had a job helping build them. Now he is helping dismantle them.
This is a dire warning novel at its most effective as the state intrudes more and more on people’s freedom to choose. To emphasise the point, both Hugh and Nick and possibly Hugh’s father as well, have what in other times would be regarded as second sight. An explanation for what they experience is explained but is a low key thread running through the novel. This is a gene which will be ‘fixed’ in any future generations, so what the interference is doing is ensuring that human evolution stops, fixing the race into a dead end. Maybe it is fortunate that less enlightened countries have not embraced all the technology the West has produced. ‘Intrusion’ is a superb example of the dire warning/future extrapolation novel. In an ideal world, all women should read it, demand safeguards against this happening and pass the book on. This is a world where the free choice of women is trampled on. Unfortunately, it is extremely plausible.
MacLeod is fond of endings that make the reader aware that the story they are following may be trivial compared with events in the wider world. This is no exception and the flash of insight that the reader will have is shown as a blind spot that so many political systems following a perceived agenda seem to have.