John Scalzi is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read up on for some time, but never gotten around to. I was mostly interested in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, especially after it was announced that SyFy channel would be adapting it for television. But at New York Comic Con I chose to pick up Lock In instead, having heard plenty of positive feedback from the new title, and having finally gotten around to reading it I can say it’s extremely well-deserved praise. And I didn’t realize I bought a signed copy, which was a pleasant surprise!
Lock In is a one-off science fiction mystery novel that takes shape in the near future. A powerful disease sweeps the world, infecting millions, and would come to be known as Haden’s Syndrome. Most only came over with a fever that quickly subsided. But many experienced full paralysis while still completely conscious – this being called Lock In. A small minority of Haden victims were spared paralysis, but their brains were altered to allow Integration, meaning other Hadens can take control of the Integrators bodies to live out their day to day. With such a large portion of the world now paralyzed, government funding on projects to help aid these ones back to functionality is extremely high (for those that can’t afford integrators). Companies emerge, producing android-like machines that Haden victims can integrate with to beat paralysis, called Personal Transports (or threeps due to their resemblance to “a beloved android character from one of the most popular films of all time”). There’s also the Agora, which is basically a giant virtual space where Hadens have free roam.
A few decades later and a new law passes, Abrams-Kettering, which will drastically diminish government funding for those infected with Lock In. This sets the stage for the Hadens walk out in DC, where a large protest is planned at the end of the week. Threeps are coming in from all over the country, meaning prejudice and radicalism is causing a surge in Hadens related acts of violence and vandalism. The book focuses on Chris Shane, a Haden himself and the son of a billionaire philanthropist, and his first week on the job as an FBI agent, with his self-destructive partner Leslie Vann. They get mixed in on a strange case of a murdered Navajo man. Naturally this mystery goes far far deeper than meets the eye.
As is typical with most mysteries, they generally begin with a body. It’s an age old trope that the genre just can’t shake. But Scalzi does find excellent ways to change the game. He creates a future so easily believable and accessible that it’s hard not to fall in love with its originality. You get locked in so to speak.
The story is paced excellently, and the chapters all seem to fly by. There were certain segments that are overly technical, and my eyes did gloss over a bit, but 95% of the novel is easily accessible. I will also fault the cover of the novel for being extremely bland – a cover that would normally be a strong turnoff for me. But the same story is exceptionally sound, and has a very satisfying conclusion.
As far as character development goes, Scalzi does a wonderful job. It’s not uncommon in SciFi or the mystery genre for characters to have the same speech patterns and responses as other characters in the book. I was worried about this as I began because it did seem as though the characters, Chris and Vann, both spoke the same way. You realize later that Scalzi does this on purpose because the first days of a new job with a new partner are awkward. You keep the conversation to a minimum. The characters build a relationship, and slowly all the characters build personalities. By the end you just love the team and the relationships they build.
I don’t read enough science fiction (as you might have noticed), but this is an excellent gateway drug into the genre, and to Scalzi’s work, which I plan to read much more of in the coming months. I’d say for me this is one of the best books of the year, and a very engrossing one at that. Don’t you dare miss it.