Ken MacLeod's Intrusion: a surveillance and bioscience dystopia with the best of intentions

By Cory Doctorow

Ken MacLeod's new novel Intrusion is a new kind of dystopian novel: a vision of a near future "benevolent dictatorship" run by Tony Blair-style technocrats who believe freedom isn't the right to choose, it's the right to have the government decide what you would choose, if only you knew what they knew.

Set in North London, Intrusion begins with the story of Hope, a mother who has become a pariah because she won't take "the fix," a pill that repairs known defects in a gestating fetus's genome. Hope has a "natural" toddler and is pregnant with her second, and England is in the midst of a transition from the fix being optional to being mandatory for anyone who doesn't have a "faith-based" objection. Hope's objection isn't based on religion, and she refuses to profess a belief she doesn't have, and so the net of social services and laws begins to close around her.

MacLeod widens the story from Hope, and her husband Hugh (a carpenter working with carbon-sequestering, self-forming "New Wood") who has moved to London from an independent Scotland, and whose childhood hides a series of vivid hallucinations of ancient people from the Ice Age-locked past. Soon we're learning about the bioscientists who toil to improve the world's genomes, the academics who study their work, the refuseniks who defy the system in small and large ways, and the Naxals, city-burning wreckers who would obliterate all of society. The Naxals, along with a newly belligerent India and Russia, are a ready-made excuse for a war-on-terror style crackdown on every corner of human activity that includes ubiquitous CCTV, algorithmic behavior monitors, and drones in every corner of the sky.

With Intrusion, MacLeod pays homage to Orwell, showing us how a society besotted with paternalistic, Cass Sunstein-style "nudging" of behavior can come to the same torturing, authoritarian totalitarianism of brutal Stalinism. MacLeod himself is a Marxist who is lauded by libertarians, and his unique perspective, combined with a flair for storytelling, yields up a haunting, gripping story of resistance, terror, and an all-consuming state that commits its atrocities with the best of intentions.


Published 1:27 am Thu, Mar 1, 2012

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

10 Responses to “Ken MacLeod's Intrusion: a surveillance and bioscience dystopia with the best of intentions”

  1. Kleinzeit says:

    Stunningly brilliant cover.

  2. dogzilla says:

    Is this available in the US?

  3. anansi133 says:

    Wow, if there were any risks posed by our immunization strategy, this book would describe our situation pretty well. I’m so glad there’s nothing wrong with the way we do things now!

    • Jack Coates says:

      except that immunization against communicable diseases is not the same thing as repair of genetic defects. Sort of like the difference between losing your money to a burglar or just losing it.

  4. Brian Cain says:

    Cory, how would you compare this one with Mirage, which you reviewed earlier?  Is the world building done here on the same level?

  5. guthrie says:

    Macleod is a Marxist?  I thought he leant more towards the anarcho-socialist side of things. 

  6. Phil Wolff says:

    When Iain Banks calls your book dystopian, you’ve nailed the dark and creepy thing.