This speculative thriller is set 50 years away, in a world of ‘what if?’, when the global population has reached catastrophic proportions. Out of endless war and revolutions arose a new universal policy, one which brings out the worst in people so they can create a better world. When Li Hu and his wife want to have a child they must be approved by Contraception – an initiative requiring each applicant to first kill three random people to combat the world’s growing population. But such a radical solution is open to corruption, and Li soon faces hitmen, hackers and hostile politicians in a bid to overcome near-impossible odds…
Author Degen Hill uses his detailed knowledge of today’s Chinese society – doubtless informed by the lasting impact of the one-child policy – to range far and free among moral uncertainties in this thought-provoking story. Li Hu undergoes a more radical version of the domestic dilemma faced by many men: how do you respond to your partner’s increasing need for offspring? How does that affect your relationship? What compromises will you make to satisfy the biological and emotional needs of your spouse? When does an unborn child become more important than those people already living? And how far would you go to become a parent? Could you really kill a complete stranger? How about an old friend?
These dilemmas (and many more) form the core of Contraception, propelled along by a series of killings – homicides which are often clumsily accomplished by the nice, middle-class couple who might casually discuss appropriate methods of murder at a dinner party with other affluent young professionals. The social commentary is most entertaining, and author Hill wisely chooses to makes his would-be parents rather inept (initially, anyway) at dispatching their prey. Li Hu in particular suffers extreme attacks of conscience which affect his ability to achieve a clean kill… and jeopardise more than his potential parenthood in the process.
The Li Hu’s ineptitude is cleverly contrasted with the cleanly proficient skills of the professional killer, whose chapters are interwoven with the couple’s misadventures. Their meandering, haphazard progress – frequently punctuated by extended bouts of heart-rending and hand-wringing – contrasts vividly with the hitman’s cool, callous competence. And soon enough, the two worlds will collide…
I hugely enjoyed Contraception’s moral debates, and the author’s insightful observations of 21st century society and speculation on where they may lead. The technological developments felt less likely than the sociological ones – looking at how far info-tech has come since 1968, I somehow doubt we’ll be using tablet devices or wrist bands in 2068. By then, it’ll all be done with the flick of an eyeball, I reckon.
The flow of the narrative was also disrupted here and there by his habit of dropping in a Mandarin (?) sentence, with the translation buried only in a footnote. And I’m pretty sure that (in English, anyway) the plural of Hu is Hus… and not Hu’s.
In fairness, Contraception is a first novel – and it displays all the volatile dynamism of a first time author who is refining his craft, so it’s pretty easy to forgive the odd bump in the road. I’ll certainly look out for Degen Hill’s next offering, and hope it delivers more of his inventive and provocative story-telling.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Contraception: Our World, reimagined by Degen Hill is available at Amazon