MacLeod's dystopian masterpiece Intrusion in paperback

Ken Macleod's amazing dystopian novel Intrusion is out in paperback today. Here's my review from last March:

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.



  1. It’s amazing how often I read book reviews here, want to go buy the book, and am then foiled by Amazon.  I’m like 0 for 5 in the past six months.

  2. I wonder what the difference is between this scenario and forced vaccination. I say this as a pro-vaccine atheist who would probably support such a program. If the benefits to society as a whole are overwhelmingly clear and the decision about enforcement is taken in a fully-democratic manner (i.e. 90% of voters), why should an individual not yield to the will of the community?

    1. Because there really are individuals whose allergies or compromised immune systems mean their health, even lives, would be seriously endangered by vaccination.

      “Yes,” you say, “but this proposed system would allow for medical exclusions.”  Right, and no bureaucracy for identifying and fulfilling people’s needs ever made a mistake and then refused to recognize it.

      That said, I might contemplate mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers, maybe elementary school teachers.  Many jobs have physical requirements, and no one is forced to take any specific job.

      1. Sorry, there is a miscommunication here: vaccination is already compulsory in most of Europe for certain diseases at young age. There is currently a crackdown on opt-out clauses, after the idiotic “autism” scare resulted in a surge of people avoiding vaccination, which resulted in possibly-lethal diseases making a big comeback. And cracking down on these idiocies is the right thing to do — in matters of life and death, the herd must be protected above the individual, hollywood be damned. A bit of bureaucracy here is a necessary evil.

        My question is: given we already do this for vaccination, and on good reason, if tomorrow we could establish, above any reasonable doubt, that some particular pathologies can be cured before birth via genetic therapy that is virtually infallible, and that the cost of dealing with these pathologies later in life is higher than the cost of forced “pre-emption” via this cure, why should we not mandate that people deal with them straight away ?

        I know it’s a complex argument (what sort of pathologies we are talking about, for example — what about “homosexual genes” or “violent genes” etc), I’m just wondering what sort of “absolute” principle one could oppose to this train of reasoning, because I honestly cannot see it.

        1. Thinking about it just now, I suppose it’s not quite that simple, in that there isn’t a ’causes cancer’ gene. Likely a gene that might cause defects such as increased cancer chances may also act on a phenotype such as the colour of their hair, or their personality, or anything at all. And unless we had a 100% accurate understanding of the gene does it could cause changes unforeseen until much later. 

          But yeah, mandatory inoculations are a sensible idea.

        2. Not a very helpful equivalency since trisomy 21 isn’t going to spread to all the other children at school like measles will.

          1. No, but one could argue that there is still a cost for society in terms of additional care and welfare support, which (in these days of shrinking public budgets and fighting among poors) could be considered increasingly unsustainable. 

            My mother, who works for the Italian NHS, is fond to say that we spend way too much money keeping alive 70- or 80-year-olds who have nothing to look forward to and nothing to contribute to society. I’m not that nazi, but I can understand her point of view, like I can understand why we, as a society, might want to go down this “totalitarian” path, and I’d like to know some good objections.

          2. You could argue the continuum all the way down to killing off humans and replacing us with robots. You have to pick a line somewhere. I’m not willing to force people to do things because of money. I’m perfectly fine with forcing them to do things to prevent outbreaks of highly communicable diseases that have historically killed a lot of children.

          3. I agree that you have to draw a line somewhere, indeed it’s the “where” that sets us apart from, say, Stalin or GWB, but do we have instruments that can help us find the right “where”? You say money is not a justification, whereas “potential for spreading to others with possibly lethal consequences” is; but then, if we identify a “serial killer gene” (assuming evidence is overwhelming etc etc) which clearly has murderous consequences for the community, will that go in the “vaccination” column? Brain-related pathologies are still a huge taboo (for good reasons — we still don’t understand them enough, we’re actually quite far from “exact” science in this area), but at some point we’ll probably get there, and I don’t see why it would be considered “totalitarian” to prevent this sort of pathologies from emerging.
            I haven’t read this book, does it actually provide some answers in this regard or is it just a semi-libertarian screed on “the gubermint is WRONG ‘cuz I wanna do what I wanna do” ?

  3. I usually agree with and enjoy Cory’s recommendations but I can’t say this book did it for me. It felt like a rather disjointed bunch of good ideas thrown together to meet a deadline. No spoilers but the ending really did feel rushed and a little silly. Shame because there did seem to be the kernel of a good story in there but it needed many more drafts to make a coherent narrative.

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