Book log: Reginald Hill — Matlock’s System

Science fiction novel originally published in 1973 under the title Heart Clock, and by the pseudonym Dick Morland. I finished it a couple of days ago and am still mulling it over; but I think the conclusion is that it’s readable, but I’d have liked it a lot more had I read it in the 1980s, the time at which it clearly diverges wildly from our own history rather than being an at least semi-plausible future. It’s dated in odd little ways (e.g. “it’s set in the 2030s and they don’t have mobile phones?”) that pulled me out of the story in places, and Hill’s writing wasn’t as good then as it is now.

Matlock’s System is a means of balancing the national budget by controlling population to keep it within the country’s means. Each annual Budget Day statement sets the national Expectation of Life — in other words, the age at which an individual will be euthanised. The novel uses similar concepts to the earlier Logan’s Run, but here the system uses a variable age, and is enforced by a surgically implanted device that will stop the heart at the set time without outside intervention (and the device is physically re-set after Budget Day if the EoL changes. Tough luck if the EoL drops below your current age…).

Matlock proposed the system many years ago as a humane means of dealing with a severe budgetary crisis, and was the first recipient of a heart clock device. He has since come to see the system as wrong, and not just because his own age is approaching the current EoL. He has campaigned for many years to overturn the system, and been largely ignored, despised for his apostasy by the ruling party he once led. But now he’s suddenly important to more than one major political faction, and is left running for his life, trying to sift lies from truth and discover the reason for this sudden interest in him. Matlock wants to live — a little for selfish reasons, but mostly because he has the best chance he’s ever had of destroying his own system.

If you like Hill’s work, this book’s worth trying, but bear in mind that it’s both written early in his career and in a somewhat different style to the Dalziel&Pascoe or Joe Sixsmith series.

LibraryThing entry

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