Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Logan's Light Morning Stroll [Review: The Unit]

The Unit is a Swedish novel by Ninni Holmqvist. Like Never Let Me Go, it’s about a group of people detained legally by the state for organ donation and medical research, but who are also aware of, and to some extent, accepting of their fate. So The Unit is not science fiction – at least to start with. In this case it is the over 50s rather than cloned schoolchildren who are detained, and there is a value judgement – they are deemed a burden on society if they haven’t had children by this time, and are unworthy of protection for any other reason: their only other choice is suicide which seems a little wasteful.

The story is told by Dorrit Weger who was brought up to be independent – not to become dependent on any man, not to derail her career plans with childbirth. She reaches age 50 with very little to show for it. Meanwhile, her country has been sleepwalking into a very dark place, and financial and political pressures are making unthinkable solutions thinkable.

The Unit has several themes. It’s about the way we view the elderly: creating a sort of sinister care home with an opt-in organ donation scheme, and institutionalising the way that elderly people can be abandoned by their families and left to die or to be abused, their lives unvalued.

There’s also a strange challenge to feminist ideas – it seems that Dorrit would have been fine if only she had found a man to love her and father her children. Instead the silly woman put her career and independence first, running the risk of being left on the shelf. Misguided? Perhaps.

However the strongest message is the call to political activism. Dorrit and her generation have been apathic, and have completely missed gradual but relentless societal changes. Even when arriving in the Unit Dorrit remains stoic and non-science-fictional about the whole thing, and ultimately it is selfishness, plus an unlikely change in her personal circumstances, that “activates” her. Like Aldous Huxley, this author wants her readers to wake up and take action to avert a dystopian future, and it’s hard to argue with that.


Maurice Mitchell said...

That is a wild idea. Forcing people who haven't "contributed to society" to give up their organs. Scary enough to be true Gene.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Right now a good healthy kidney is probably a better long term investment than a pension...