I loved Nexus, Ramez Naam's 2012 debut novel about biohackers who produce a nano-based party drug that installs a networked computer inside your brain, and quickly turns into a war-on-drugs bioethics thriller about the free/open transhumanists and mirthless, ruthless drug enforcement agents.
With Necessary Evil, published today, Ian Tregillis triumphantly concludes his astonishing, brilliant, pulse-pounding debut trilogy, The Milkweed Triptych. Milkweed began in 2010 with Bitter Seeds, an alternate history WWII novel about a Nazi doctor who creates a race of twisted X-Men through a program of brutal experimentation; and of the British counter-strategy: calling up the British warlocks and paying the blood-price to the lurking elder gods who would change the very laws of physics in exchange for the blood of innocents. These elder gods, the Eidolons, hate humanity and wish to annihilate us, but we are so puny that they can only perceive us when we bleed for them. With each conjuration of the Eidolons on Britain's behalf, the warlocks bring closer the day when the Eidolons will break through and wipe humanity's stain off the universe.
Book two, The Coldest War, came out last summer -- a too-long hiatus! -- and jumped forward to the 1960s, where the struggle continued in a Europe divided among the Soviets -- who seized the Nazi technology at the end of the war and used it to breed their own supermen -- and the British, whose warlock reserves have become an everyday instrument of foreign policy. Coldest War was half James Bond, half Cthulhu, and was every bit as painstakingly researched, beautifully described, blisterlingly plotted and utterly engrossing as the first.
Now, with book three, Necessary Evil, Tregillis draws the series to a close with a time travel story that goes back to the beginning of the tale, a desperate mission to stop the use of magick and the use of the Nazi "Will to Power" from ever gaining hold, to keep the elder gods at bay. And in Evil, Tregillis is even more on form. This is a book that veers precipitously from unexpected and chilling ruminations on the inherent evil of precognition; to the questions of loyalty and betrayal so thorny that they need a time-travel loop to really be explored; to spy-thriller action sequences that will keep you up under the covers with a flashlight, turning pages and unable to sleep.
This is a remarkable set of books, and with all three in hand, would make a fabulous spring read.
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.