Imagine a near-future London where advances in medical science have led to the development of a single-dose pill which, taken when pregnant, eradicates many common genetic defects from an unborn baby. Hope Morrison, mother of a hyperactive four-year-old, is expecting her second child. She refuses to take The Fix, as the pill is known. Her refusal divides her family and friends and puts her and her husband in danger of imprisonment or worse. Is Hope’s decision a private matter of individual choice, or is it tantamount to wilful neglect of her unborn child?
This is a chillingly plausible take on our near future and MacLeod has beautifully depicted a very recognisable world with all sorts of enjoyable touches. I love the climate change – while the rest of the world is growing warmer, the British Isles will be significantly colder and wetter without the warming ocean currents. I also like the genetically enhanced trees and the fact that wind farms are now obsolete. The fact that they are installed in the Highlands, away from the sensibilities of irate nimbys residing in populous England was also a fine irony.
Pregnant women forced to wear monitor rings and effectively barred from working in the public sphere for fear of pollutants causing any problems for their unborn babies was also a scenario I could see as all too realistic, in a society increasingly risk averse. But having a strong, believable backdrop isn’t going to rescue a book if I don’t care about the characters. Hope and her husband, Hugh were both well drawn, with their everyday domestic routines nicely juxtaposed against all those jarring details. I liked their edges and although initially I was concerned about Hugh’s ‘issues’ I decided to just go with the flow, so long as I enjoyed reading about the world. I’m so glad I did. His backstory proved to be engrossing and the resulting consequences an intriguing scientific explanation for second sight
The story is a real gem. I found Hope’s gut feeling that she didn’t want The Fix all too believable – and the fact because she cannot exactly put her finger on why she doesn’t want to the treatment for her unborn child causes a lot of trouble. Once she refuses to use religion as protective camouflage, she is attacked on all sides. Even other women who decide not to take The Fix are critical of her, on the grounds that her stand is pure selfishness. Without lurching into spoiler territory, I cannot discuss too much more about the storyline – except to say that the pressure doesn’t ease up on this family anytime, soon. Even more worrying is the treatment handed out to British subjects of a different ethnic origin under the guise of trying to control the potential terrorist threat. Continual surveillance, constant stop and search sessions in the back of police vans are the least of their worries – all in the name of keeping Britain safe from a nihilistic terrorist threat.
The story reaches a shocking climax – with the ending packing a memorable punch that raised the hair on the nape of my neck. I haven’t always found MacLeod a totally satisfying read – but this is right up there with the best he’s ever written.