BOOK REVIEW / A future with no wars, no crime - and no men: 'Nomansland' - D G Compton: Gollancz, 14.99 pounds

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SOME of us have missed D G Compton. Nomansland is his first solo novel in 13 years, and neither his intelligence nor his imagination have suffered from the long lie-in (he published a collaborative, clankety pot-boiler two years ago entitled Ragnarok with John Gribbin, but it was not quite up to his usual stuff). Compton has been one of Britain's most original and consistent novelists since the late Sixties, but he has never received the attention he deserves, for a pretty stupid reason.

Like Angela Carter, J G Ballard or Michael Moorcock, he has chosen to publish much of his best work in the science fiction field, and this has caused him to be overlooked by the sort of highbrow literary types who should know better. Most of his books are hi-tech thrillers, strong on character and thick with political resonance. And all of them, unfortunately, are long out of print.

Compton writes obsessively about the Age of Surveillance, where everybody is always watching everybody else on television, the telephones are all tapped and nobody can trust anybody - especially not the members of their own families.

In Synthajoy (1968), the most intimate emotions of human beings are recorded and sold for profit on compact discs; in The Steel Crocodile (1970), a secret computer is built to help politicians control unruly populations; and in The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1974), a dying woman's agony and loneliness are publicly broadcast by a hi-tech news mini-cam dressed up to look like a human being (sound like any television journalists you know?). Mortenhoe was published in the United States as The Unsleeping Eye and filmed by Bertrand Tavernier in 1980 as Deathwatch.

Including this latest one, Nomansland, Compton has written 14 excellent novels over a period of four decades, and produced at least one unbeatable title for a novel: Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, the Sandpaper Sides of Used Matchboxes, and something that might have been Castor Oil - published by Faber in 1971 and released in the United States under the equally apt title, Chronocules.

Nomansland opens 40 years into the Attrition, when Dr Harriet Khan-Ryder figures out a way to bring men back into the world again - she is just not so sure it is a good idea. As the result of an Aids-like virus called Mers (Male Embryo Rejection Syndrome), only women are being born any more, and the resulting disproportion has brought a strange new society into existence: one with no more wars, less crime and cleaner cities. While the men continue dying, the women begin to realise how nice it is without them.

But even in this brave new world, some things never change. The Asian black market is booming, peddling babies with crudely faked male genitalia. Yuppie parents are giving their baby girls a head start with the odd booster shot of testosterone, creating a marginal race of 'hormos', pushy women with hairy chests who want to be the new Captains of Industry. While the Pope decrees that masturbation is still a mortal sin, unless it is supervised by those friendly officers at the local sperm-collection centre.

And while women are making inroads into every profession - business, marketing, scientific research and even law enforcement - it is still men over 40 who continue to occupy all the top political and corporate positions. Perhaps men are being phased out by the Gaian Earth Mother because they are not environmentally correct, Harriet decides at one point. But having beaten the syndrome (as well as implanting herself with one of the world's first viable male embryos in four decades), she attempts to release her test results anyway. When certain high-ranking political figures object, D G Compton's latest witty and intelligent thriller gets going.

Compton's prose is fine-tuned, his human insights sharp, and his narrative pace filled with the weird synchronicities and dissonances of how violent things usually happen. He is also one of the few contemporary thriller writers who does not leave you feeling manipulated or foolish - unless, of course, you never get around to reading any of his good books.

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