Lock In by John Scalzi
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by Tor Books
Lock In is a Sci-Fi Mystery set in the near future. Years ago, a flu-like illness spread throughout the world. Most people fully recovered. However, one percent of those who contracted the illness became victims of Haden’s Syndrome. Haden’s Syndrome is the effect of a viral meningitis that some of the flu sufferers contracted. Some of the sufferers recover. Some become “locked in” to their bodies—they are fully conscious, but become unable to use their bodies.
Now, twenty years later, many scientific advances have been made. Those with Haden’s are able to embody Personal Transports—robotic bodies referred colloquially as threeps—to move around in the physical world. They are also able to transplant their consciousness temporarily into the body of an Integrator. Integrators are people who at one point contracted the illness and suffered the meningitis but fully recovered. They have been highly trained and implanted with a mechanism in their brain to allow for the transplantation of others’ consciousnesses.
Some of those who are locked in long for the physical world and do everything they can to maintain a “normal” life. Others have no attachment to the physical world. They prefer to inhabit the Agora—a virtual world where they can move about freely. A new law has been passed that inhibits the research and government subsidies that contribute to their quality of life. Hadens (those with the syndrome) are taking this very seriously. Many are protesting.
Along side this, Chris Shane is entering his first week as an FBI agent. The unrest in the Haden community has led to to a significant increase in local disruption—riots, assaults… and murder.
This is the first novel I have read by John Scalzi. I initially heard about this book a while back on Book Riot. I think it was in one of their Inbox/Outbox posts. Recently while browsing the bookstore, I came across the title and decided to purchase it. Ultimately, I am glad that I did.
Scalzi is an impeccable world builder. Right from the get-go you’re completely immersed in Scalzi’s near future, and everything immediately seems totally plausible (while still super cool). From there, you follow Agent Chris Shane through his first week and all the ups and downs therein. Lucky for him (or not so much), he jumps in during a very busy week (understatement of the year).
This books is a Suspense/Mystery with a Sci-Fi twist. It’s a who-dunnit with the added difficulty of not knowing who was in whose head at the time of the murder…
There were two main things that I really liked about this book.
1) The premise. It’s so cool! I love stuff like that. Robots? Fun science-y business? Awesome!
2) The social commentary Scalzi weaves in. I love the way that science fiction, something that seems so far in the future and distant from us (though this one was the “near” future), has the ability to call attention to aspects of our own society and the issues that we need to address.
In Lock In, Scalzi explores what it means to be human, and he does this in a very practical way. If we are not able to do something that is perceived as normal, does that make us less human? Does that make us in need of being “cured”? What first came to mind for me was an episode of the TV show Switched At Birth. One of the main characters in the show is hard of hearing and is active in the deaf community. Throughout the show, there are many deaf characters. In one episode, one of the characters is considering getting a cochlear implant. Those he knows that can hear think it’s a great idea. But those that are deaf do not. If he gets this implant, they will not be so emerged in the deaf community. It is kind of seen, by some, as an affront. Like being deaf is not enough, like their community is not enough.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. Like I said, there were some things that I really enjoyed. However, other than the neat Sci-Fi elements, this is mostly a law enforcement procedural. That is not a bad thing, by any means! It’s just not my favourite thing. I prefer when there is more of a personal/emotional element to the mystery. That being said, Scalzi does a great job in this novel.