Ken MacLeod is an author whose work I sometimes really like (the Star Faction books) but who at other timesThis review first appeared on my blog here.
Ken MacLeod is an author whose work I sometimes really like (the Star Faction books) but who at other times doesn't really connect with me (the Engines of Light trilogy). Intrusion falls into the second category.
It is one of several recent novels by MacLeod which are stand-alone near future dystopias, rather like the series of similar works produced by John Brunner in the 1970s. There are two main elements to Intrusion: an encroaching "nanny state", particularly concerned to make people live more and more healthy lifestyles; and the moral and social consequences of advances in genetic engineering.
These are given a human aspect through the central character, a pregnant woman who refuses to take "the fix", a pill which sorts out an embryo's genetic abnormalities. Although this refusal is not a crime, Hope is unwilling even to discuss the reasons behind her decision, and this makes her a person of interest to the police - rather in the way that attending a mosque seems to do in the West today. The issues soon become muddled, as the plot development is based on the possibility that Hope's husband might have the second sight, and this begins to take prominence over the elements which were important at the beginning.
My problem with this is that the second sight, by its nature more fantastical than the otherwise realistic seeming near future setting of the novel, just doesn't fit in to Intrusion. It feels like a device used to push the plot forward, without being integrated into the action in a meaningful way. It is given a pseudo-scientific explanation, but one with some pretty obvious holes in it to my mind.
In other areas, too, it feels that there is a certain laziness to the construction of Intrusion, as evidenced by the name of the protagonist. This may be intended to be an ironic gesture, but is neither so outrageously obvious to be fun (as Hiro Protagonist is in Snow Crash), nor sufficiently understated to be interesting.
The subject touches on issues at the very basis of how humans live in social groups. To do so necessitates giving up some individual freedom for the good of the group; the question is, where does the line between individual and state lie? Since the answer to this question differs radically from person to person, culture to culture, and subject to subject, it is not one which can be discussed in depth in a single book - indeed, I think it could be argued that the whole of political theory, and much of sociology and anthropology, deals with ways in which this question can be answered. So it is not surprising that even the relatively limited scope of the discussion in Intrusion merely scratches the surface of what might be said about health care and the government, but I did feel that more could be said - Intrusion seems to be more a statement of a fixed position (essentially, that Hope should have the right to refuse if she so wishes), than an analysis or a treatment in which the plot involves a developing portrayal of the issues. Brunner's dystopias were mainly about attempts to change society (or, more specifically, attempts to reform society to ameliorate problems caused by undirected sociological development), and this makes them much more satisfying if more depressing than this novel.
All in all, an unsatisfying novel which never really gripped my attention....more
That this is a book which can be considered old fashioned is clear from the start - it seems to be customary for historians dealing with Western EuropThat this is a book which can be considered old fashioned is clear from the start - it seems to be customary for historians dealing with Western Europe during the period between 400 and 1000 CE to start with a disclaimer about the accuracy of the term "Dark Ages", and there is nothing like that here. What we have is a series of chapters, each treating a particular period in the history of Rome as the city was transformed from the centre of a temporal empire to the centre of a religious one - though this process is by no means completed by the end of the book. The style is narrative, and concentrates on the political aspects of the development of the medieval papacy.
I would have been interested to see more social history - how did the life of the average citizen change in these six hundred years? There are one or two problems with the book, too, which make it less interesting or less readable. There are few dates in the text, which can make it hard to follow how quickly time is passing; as the most important indicators of this are the names of the reigning popes, or of Byzantine or the early Holy Roman Emperors, tables showing the succession of these rulers would have been very helpful indeed to have alongside the story. There are some inconsistencies about naming, in particular in the maps at the beginning of the book, some of which use modern names while others stick with the classical ones. The final chapter, added for the 1990s edition, is billed as bringing the book up to date with the latest scholarship, but instead reads more like a brief summary of what the reader has just finished.
So while this is a subject of some interest - as the influence of the medieval papacy played an important part in a wide range of historical events - this is not a hugely useful treatment of it....more
This is a pretty good textbook on the mathematical physics underlying the theory of general relativity. Despite a consistent attempt to explain the siThis is a pretty good textbook on the mathematical physics underlying the theory of general relativity. Despite a consistent attempt to explain the significance of each idea, there are large numbers of new concepts, and of notation conventions and shortcuts, which make it harder to read (for someone like myself whose background is pure mathematics rather than physics) than it otherwise could be. Deserves to be read with more thoroughness than I had time to give it - taking notes while reading would have certainly made it easier to follow....more
Bought this partly because SF fans I knew in the 1980s raved about how good the Viriconium stories were, and partly because I really liked Harrison'sBought this partly because SF fans I knew in the 1980s raved about how good the Viriconium stories were, and partly because I really liked Harrison's Light. But now they seem to me to be mainly pale imitations of Michael Moorcock - not too surprising, as they originated from stories published in New Worlds. There is obvious satiricial content, being fantasy about a decaying world living for past glories (a fairly clear parallel to attitudes in Britain to the legacy of empire in the sixties and seventies), with some interesting imagery. Mostly dull though.
The most interesting and different of these stories, A Young Man's Journey to Viriconium, is placed last in this omnibus, telling of people who are searching for a way into the fantasy world from real world Britain; the addition of the conspiracy theory style elements makes this far more entertaining.
It feels to me that the reputation of these stories has been increased by lengthy periods over which they were unavailable - and they don't live up to it....more
This is a real rarity: it is a book where I preferred a TV adaptation. It's a sequel to Pride and Prejudice where the Darcy family (along with the unwThis is a real rarity: it is a book where I preferred a TV adaptation. It's a sequel to Pride and Prejudice where the Darcy family (along with the unwelcome Wickham) become embroiled in a murder mystery.
The problems become really apparent about half way through; until then, it's just a fairly mediocre historical detective story with some nice asides (such as Wickham having had a job working as the secretary to the Elliots from Persuasion). But in the second half, the characters almost disappear, with pages and pages of exposition - and to do this to Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, among the most beloved characters in English literature, is a crime in itself.
A modern appraisal of an important period in English history, the reign of King Stephen. It's an academic book, though at the more accessible end of sA modern appraisal of an important period in English history, the reign of King Stephen. It's an academic book, though at the more accessible end of such. It's an interesting, well written study of a man who failed at what he attempted to do as his adult life's work, who came between two of the most successful medieval English kings....more