A truly mind-bending novel about the future of genetically-modified humansS

Ken MacLeod's novel Intrusion, which has been a hit in the UK since it was released earlier this year, tackles a familiar issue in a completely unexpected way. Hope is a mother-to-be in a near-future London, where pregnant women are under tremendous pressure to take "Fix," a pill that corrects most known genetic defects in their fetuses. Though not mandated by law, it's likely that it will be soon — the UK has become an authoritarian medical surveillance state, where everybody's blood chemistry is monitored via bracelets whose data is transmitted to health departments.

Light spoilers ahead.

For reasons we at first don't understand, Hope has decided not to take the Fix. She could apply for an exemption if were willing to declare herself a religious or conscientious objector. But she's not. She simply doesn't want to take the Fix, and she doesn't feel like she should have to justify her decision. When Hope becomes something of a media celebrity for refusing, she registers on the radar of a graduate student named Geena, who studies the culture of biotech workers. Geena becomes fascinated by Hope's case and tries to figure out whether Hope could apply for an exemption if she could prove that her fetus might have a beneficial mutation that would be destroyed by the Fix.

That's when things get ugly — and weird. Once she starts meddling, Geena is picked up and tortured by the cops. Hope and her husband Hugh get more and more threatening visits from their designated health monitor. And meanwhile, Hugh is having visions of a world full of airships and neo-pagans with blue face tattoos. Plus, Geena has actually discovered a unique mutation in Hugh's DNA — a mutation he shares with his and Hope's first child.

A truly mind-bending novel about the future of genetically-modified humans

MacLeod's genius in this novel is in bringing to life a perfectly plausible medico-state regime, complete with internecine local politics. And then, just when you think you're reading a futuristic, dystopian thriller, the novel takes an abrupt turn into Scottish lore about the "bright land" that only a few can see. It turns out that Hugh's visions of those airships are shared by several people on the Scottish island where he was born. Some of them can even walk into that other world via a hidden portal. And it's starting to look like this is all connected to that mutation Geena found. Somehow, MacLeod manages to create what I can only call a kind of hard-bitten political magic realism.

What if, he seems to ask, you discovered that genetic modification was going to destroy magic? Or you discovered that accessing the "bright land" of myth was a quirk of genetics? These kinds of questions will keep you guessing right up until the end of the novel, which comes to a satisfying emotional and ethical conclusion that will completely change the way you think about GMOs. And Scottish magic.

You can pick up Intrusion via UK Amazon.