The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reviews round-up

Intrusion continues to get good reviews, from newspapers at interestingly different quarters of the political compass.

Here's the Daily Mail:
Dramatising a novel of ideas is the opposite of easy but Ken MacLeod manages it at an apparent stroll. He also conjures up a scarily plausible and cleverly detailed vision of mid-21st-century life - the weather (damp and really cold), computers (with wraparound specs and virtual keyboards), health Nazism (the illicit backyard cafes, where people eat bacon butties and smoke), and the looming brave new world offered by bio-engineering. Excellent.

Well to the Mail's left, a review of this and other books in the weekly Socialist Worker says:
Left wing science fiction author Ken MacLeod brings us a dark vision of a dystopian future in a novel that some have likened to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This tale of totalitarianism revolves around “the fix”—a pill that change your genetic make-up to fit into a world of forced conformity.

It’s a world where New Labour-style “freedom” is forced down your throat, while you live a life surrounded by CCTV and surveillance drones.

Expect MacLeod’s characteristic imagination, wit and venom in the latest novel from the author of The Execution Channel and The Night Sessions.

David Langford, in a round-up of recent SF/F in that fine old Tory daily The Telegraph, writes:
Big Nanny State is watching you. In Ken MacLeod’s near-future Intrusion (Orbit, £18.99), surveillance drones blanket London, all the databases are linked, and routine police torture is followed by trauma counselling. When the pregnant heroine refuses the pill that should correct her unborn child’s genes, she finds such crimethink is no longer tolerated… Thoughtful, plausible and scary.

In a similar round-up for the only English-language socialist daily paper, my comrade and friend Mat Coward writes in the Morning Star:
In Intrusion (Orbit, £18,99) modern SF's leading Cassandra Ken MacLeod turns his fire on nannyism, that moralistic false turn which has contributed so much in the last 20 years to isolating the left from its natural supporters.

In a near-future Britain where women can't buy alcohol without proving they're not pregnant and second-hand books are no longer sold in case they carry traces of fourth-hand tobacco smoke, a Londoner named Hope, expecting her second child, decides that she won't take The Fix, a single pill designed to eradicate genetic "defects" in foetuses.

Under a benevolent, neo-democratic regime, The Fix is, of course, voluntary - until you try to refuse it.

MacLeod certainly delights in raising questions which creatively discomfort his fellow socialists.

But he shuns the cynicism and defeatism which mars most satirical writing - not to mention the defiant unreadability of many of his famous contemporaries.
At (very) different times in my chequered political past, I've sold Socialist Worker and the Morning Star, and I still read both regularly (and buy them when I get the chance) but I'm not entirely sure that I still count as a 'fellow socialist' - as I explained when I was interviewed a couple of years ago by the then up-and-coming and now world-famous radical journalist Laurie Penny for, yes, the Morning Star. I am sure, however, that these two left-wing newspapers have caught something about the book that's been missed by likewise generous reviewers who see it as a 'socialist dystopia'.

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I'm not entirely sure that I still count as a 'fellow socialist'

Well, socialism comes in many flavours.

Roderick - I should write something about this, because I have some discomfort with that school of thought.

Ken - I think you can just wait and tell us when you find a school of thought with which you are fully comfortable.

I'm sure it won't surprise you that I've just suggested it to the Libertarian Futurist Society's screening committee as a possible nominee. Any idea when it might appear in an American edition? I'd rather not deal with transatlantic shipping if I don't have to—but it sounds like something I definitely want to read, for personal as well as organizational reasons.

Kal - nice one!

William - thanks for suggesting it. I have no idea when or even whether it'll come out in the US. Of course, as a reviewer for the LFS, I'm sure you could get a review copy for the asking. Specifically, you could ask Rose dot Tremlett at littlebrown dot co dot uk.

Thanks Bill - dead chuffed with that one. When you're in the Socialist Standard it feels like you're part of history, and in a good way.

but I'm not entirely sure that I still count as a 'fellow socialist'

Well, you see, Ken, it’s my new policy – classing anyone suspected of opposing currently-existing capitalism a “fellow socialist.” You could accuse me of annexation, even of introducing Mormonic tactics into revolutionary taxonomy, but really it’s part of a long-term anti-trivia strategy.

Yes, that's the membership requirement of the Scottish Socialist Science Fiction Vanguard Party

from Mike Cobleyl
Bit late reading this, Ken, but eye was caught by what you said at the end about some reviewers tagging it a 'socialist dystopia'. Which made me guffaw out loud since dictatorial authoritarianism is the baseline quality of corporate culture - extending that to all of society only requires the demolition of civic society (he said, looking around him)...

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