Ectopia has its precursors in novels narrated in their own particular argot by outsider adolescents such as Huck, Holden, and Alex. The principal narrator, Steven, follows protocol by speaking in the present tense, keeping his sentences brief, beginning a new paragraph at most opportunities, saying “fuck” a lot, and introducing neologisms whose meaning most readers will quickly comprehend. Indeed, the opening sections of Ectopia, with its talk of “teensquads”, “dreks” and “quals”, are very close to the skaz of Clockwork Orange, especially as both Martin Goodman’s novel and Burgess’s belong to that form of science fiction that is more properly defined as “speculative fiction”-more Handmaid’s Tale than Voyage of the Space Beagle.
Steven and Karen are twins on an Earth overwhelmed by males. Karen’s life is especially precarious as she is the last girl to have been born, which makes her the focus of her father’s incestuous advances and the fevered imaginings of the gang that her brother runs with. Not that Karen is a recluse: at one point she washes windows in a scene that parallels the car wash scene in Cool Hand Luke. Stephen’s life, meanwhile, is that of a sanctioned vigilante whose sexual preferences become concentrated on his fellows. Eventually, of course, the rules of fiction dictate that his life must change radically, just a standard device of speculative fiction insists that there must be a special location, zone beyond the quotidian, which the protagonist must enter to effect that change. In this case the location is Cromozone, a transmogrified Heathrow. It is here that Steven becomes taken over, inhabited by something that speaks inside his head and says “I’m a voice. Your voice. Assigned to you”. He has begun to be transformed, and as the nature of his demotic begins to alter, so his control of the narrative begins to be wrested from him. The world is soon shown to have different determinants to those in Steven’s initial understanding.
It is in limning his created world that Martin Goodman begins to articulate deeper narrative levels, for Ectopia is not simply an exercise in speculative fiction or an extended demonstration of skaz. Its primary purpose is political: that is, the author intends his novel to also function as a kind of discussion document, as the fictional fleshing-out of contemporary issues and uncertainties, be they on social control, sexual identity, subculture behaviour, or the nature of the self. The plot is infused with elements of myth, of gender, the catastrophe, and with the construction of narrative itself-at the very outset Steven insists that “scribing is the meaning of life”, a statement whose resonances become clear only later.
Ectopia is a novel concerned not only with ideas but with praxis, and its construction is more calculated than instinctive. It stands within a tradition of fiction that seeks to examine the nature of the present by constructing a fantastical but palpable other world that reflects some of the aspects of our own lives back on us. Martin Goodman is intensely aware of this, as his online exegesis of his novel demonstrates; he has indeed read (and made use of) most of the books worth reading, from Zamyatin to Atwood.
- The Warwick Review - Christopher Burns
‘Ectopia is a thought provoking read that isn't afraid to take risks, which gives it a leg up in the crowded dystopian marketplace. It's not going to usurp The Hunger Games as teenagers' dystopia du jour (especially since Middle Amerimoms won't appreciate the incest and gay sex), but give it a few years and some of them will want to cut their teeth on something meatier.’
Ectopia sounded rich and edgy from its cover blurb alone, promising themes of gender, medicine and identity - topics I loved to see explored in speculative fiction. The book lived up to my expectations, with just a few minor caveats. Ectopia is a terrific novel with excellent characterisation, world-building, narration and dialogue. It's also thematically strong, exploring the connections between binary concepts, including male versus female, gay versus straight, and soulful versus soulless. The result is a story of great depth, raising questions about who we are and how we define ourselves.
By far the best thing about the book is its narration. As with A Clockwork Orange and 1984, the world is built by language, meaning there is little cumbersome exposition or other authorial intrusions. Steven is a brilliant narrator with a thrilling tale to tell. His language sculpts this reality in a striking, penetrating way, often combining beautiful observations with cutting colloquial realism.
- Interzone - Barbara Melville