Thursday, 29 March 2012
A Thought Provoking Intrusion
Blog by Chris Berry - Genomics Forum Genomics Forum Press and Communications Officer
It was standing room only at Pulp Fiction – Edinburgh’s leading genre-fiction bookshop – last week, for the launch of Intrusion – the latest book from leading science fiction author, and Genomics Forum Writer in Residence, Ken MacLeod.
Intrusion explores a dystopian UK of the near future, where repression comes not from dictatorship, but rather the societal pressure to embrace the “common-sense” benefits resulting from scientific progress. This is a society where the trade in second-hand books has collapsed, amid fear of the impact from fourth-hand tobacco smoke leaching from their pages; where the trees that line London’s streets are torn down to be replaced with superior, genetically optimal, specimens; and crucially, it is a place were expectant mothers are “encouraged” to take a pill that ensures their offspring will be free from genetic disease and abnormality.
Having read from the opening chapter of Intrusion – which skilfully echoes Orwell’s 1984, by hinting at the social constraints impacting even the mundane elements of the main characters’ lives – Ken MacLeod discussed his book with Scotland on Sunday’s Literary Editor, Stuart Kelly.
During a fascinating and insightful interview, Ken indicated that his time spent as Writer in Residence with the Genomics Forum had underpinned his exploration of the interaction between society and ongoing developments in the life sciences. This in turn has fed into his development of themes that flow through Intrusion: significantly, if genetic engineering where to become so cheap and safe so as to produce a simple, all-encompassing “fix” for genetic diseases, would denying this to your children be comparable to denying them vaccinations today?
Discussions between Ken and the audience – which later spilled over to the pub adjacent to the venue – raised further key issues, such as: would fixing genetic diseases make for a homogeneous, non-evolving human race; and what are the moral dilemmas of considering the rights of individuals ahead of the future benefits science might bring to society.
Amongst the many questions raised and debated during the launch of Intrusion, one thing is clear; Ken MacLeod’s exploration of how science might shape the future of society has resulted in a highly engaging and thought-provoking read.
Intrusion is published in the UK by Orbit, and is available in hardback from leading booksellers.
Ken MacLeod was Writer in Residence with the Genomics Forum from 2009-10, and remains affiliated with the Forum.
Visit the Genomics Forum’s flickr page to view photographs from the Forum Social Session - Ken MacLeod's book launch.