Lock In by John Scalzi
I read it as an: audiobook
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Source: my own collection
Publisher: Audible Studios
FUN! So far, John Scalzi is 100% for me. I know he has a shitload of books and I haven’t read nearly all of them, but all the ones I have read have been a kick in the pants. Lock In is no different. Well, I think it IS a little different from his other works in terms of style, but a) you know what I mean, and b) I could be wrong since I haven’t read the entirety of Scalzi’s canon. This one had a slightly darker feel than the others I’ve read, but it was an excellent story and covered a variety of social issues in an interesting manner.
In the near-future, a flu-like pandemic called Haden’s Syndrome decimates the global population. In the first wave, billions die. In the second wave, some of them get sick again with meningitis. Some recover. Some die. Some are locked in, fully conscious but unable to move or speak or do anything at all with their bodies. Eventually, scientists collaborate to create a neural net that connect to personal transports, robot-like devices affectionately known as “threeps.” Chris Shane has been locked in since he was a toddler. His father is a billionaire ex-NBA player-turned-real-estate-baron and so he was able to help fund a lot of Haden’s research. As a result, Chris is one of the most famous people in the world, after the First Lady Margaret Haden, for whom the disease was named. Chris is an FBI agent and is assigned to work with FBI veteran Leslie Vann on a murder that looks like it might be Haden-related. As they investigate, it becomes apparent that someone is using “integrators,” people who survived the meningitis phase of Haden’s without being locked in and can allow locked in people to use their bodies, to commit crimes. Chris and Vann get drawn into a highly organized and complex corporate and political scheme.
This wasn’t ALL that much sci-fi, it just happened to have android-like creations into which Haden’s patients can link in so they can walk around and interact with other people who are not locked in. It’s at heart a police procedural, but I wasn’t bored with it as I am with many others. I felt that the overall ideas addressed some interesting concepts of social equality and justice, to which sci-fi is imminently well suited to discuss. There are questions of whether Haden’s are disabled or not, if they are deserving of special accommodations or not (if they have a threep), and the development of their own unique culture. As I was reading, it actually put me in mind of Deaf culture, and then I saw that many others had also considered this aspect as well. Not sure if Scalzi did that on purpose or not, but it was interesting.
I also really liked that Scalzi didn’t make much note of race in this story. It wasn’t until quite far into the book that I realized Chris is black, and it didn’t make a difference one way or the other. I love that Vann is a woman in charge and she makes no apologies for her heavy drinking and promiscuity.
The characters were all well developed and complex. Chris, as well as every other Haden we encountered, very much had his own personality and there was no hint of “robot” to him. They are people and not robots and that is a big element in the story.
The only thing I didn’t really like is that there were a few story holes, bits that were hinted at and never explained, or overtly said would be explained and then never were. For example, we never learned why Vann and Det. Trinh hate each other. Maybe it wasn’t terribly relevant to the story, but it would have been nice to know, especially since Vann said she would tell Chris why one day. If it is just because of a stereotype – federal agent and local law enforcement officer hate each other – then maybe leave it it, because that’s kind of overdone and boring if it serves no real purpose.
I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Wil Wheaton. He is one of my favorite narrators and, as with the other books he’s narrated, he did a fabulous job on this one. The audiobook also included the novella “Unlocked” at the end, which was excellent (though not narrated by Wheaton). The novella explained a LOT of things that weren’t necessarily explained by the overarching narrative of the novel. The novella apparently wasn’t included in the print version of the book, so I included a link to it here, from Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2014/05/13/unlocked-an-oral-history-of-hadens-syndrome-john-scalzi/
Overall, I loved it (though maybe not as much as Redshirts or Agent to the Stars) and am looking forward to reading another Scalzi novel.