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‘Lock In:’ Book Review

I introduced myself to John Scalzi’s writing earlier this year with Redshirts, a book that springs from the very important question of just why so many unfortunate space explorers wearing red uniforms die in the Star Trek universe.  I was immediately impressed with Scalzi’s witty choice of story concept, his handling of larger themes, and use of unconventional plot devices.  I enjoyed meeting his characters and engaging in their quick, intelligent dialogue.  The world he built felt fresh, young, and bright.  So, I was very eager to pick up Lock In, hoping to find more of the same, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches.  Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history.  And, one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.” [Goodreads Synopsis]

The result of this new virus, Hadens Syndrome, is a fascinating sci-fi environment in which not only are there fantastic, new technologies, but a whole new class of humans.  Specially designed neural networks allow victims of Hadens Syndrome, the one percent experiencing “Lock In,” to escape their non-functioning bodies.  They can utilize high-tech robotic physical bodies (referred to as “Threeps” after C3PO of Star Wars fame), contract with a human “Integrator” to allow them to basically possess their bodies for a period of time (Uber meets The Exorcist?), immerse themselves in a completely virtual environment, or any combination thereof.

Any of these options open up wide social and political questions from long-term health care to marriage to reproduction rights.  Mr. Scalzi does an admirable job of bringing a number of these issues to the forefront of his plot in an engaging manner.  The most intriguing of these to me was the number of Hadens sufferers who chose not to see themselves as victims of a disease, but instead embraced their new physical reality by residing exclusively in the virtual environment they had created for themselves.   This is a group that doesn’t want to see a cure developed for their condition, who want the right to let their bodies remain in a vegetative state . . . and who, I would imagine, would have a lot to say about Net Neutrality.

The main character is Chris Shane, a high-profile Hadens sufferer, who has stepped out from under the wing of his wealthy and politically important family to start work as an FBI agent.  He is immediately plunged into a murder case involving the mysterious death of an Integrator and just as immediately starts to learn that it’s somewhat difficult to keep your Threep in good condition when you’re chasing after bad guys (and bad robots).  Shane’s FBI partner is Leslie Vann, who has had an unsuccessful history as an Integrator and now specializes in cases involving the Hadens world.

Mr. Scalzi’s plot is a serviceable, who-done-it procedural that doesn’t quite pack the same punch as his world-building and exploration of social themes.   The mystery isn’t terribly difficult to work out, and several of the plot points were obvious to the reader long before they were obvious to the main characters.  The resolution came about quickly, fairly quietly, and without the plot twists that are so common in this genre.  I found myself looking for, but not finding, some kind of physical altercation in the final climax of the story that would bring together the ideas of Integration and the physical vulnerability of Hadens in a more visceral way.  And, I will admit that as soon as Leslie Vann’s history as an Integrator was revealed, I was envisioning a moment when she would have to play host to Shane.  (This was a scene I so desperately wanted to see that I’m tempted to embark on my first attempt at fan fiction in order to achieve it.)

All other opinions aside, I can say that, two books in, I’m a big John Scalzi fan.  His books make for a fun, fast read (or listen, in my case) that will engage your brain and keep you thinking about the way the world works long after you’ve put them down.  They lend themselves well to adaptation in other media, and I’m very interested to see that Lock In has been picked up for a TV pilot.  I definitely want to see this post-Hadens world fleshed out visually.  Time to start thinking about my casting choices . . .

Audiobook Review
Published by Audible Studios
Narrated by Wil Wheaton

I have now experienced two Scalzi / Wheaton audiobook partnerships and again find that Mr. Wheaton’s narration matches up the tone of the story very well.  Wil has a very specific reading voice and personality that is perfectly suited for both Mr. Scalzi’s writing style and subject matter.  He embodies the light, witty, slightly sarcastic quality so frequently found in the dialogue and internal thoughts of the characters.  He also very deftly handles the more emotional moments.  All around, a consistently enjoyable experience.

One slight warning: There is nothing like an audiobook performance to bring out the flaws in a piece of writing, however minute.  It seems like Mr. Scalzi punctuates nearly every line of dialogue with “he said” or “she said,” which becomes excessively redundant in the audiobook performance.   This is the kind of slight flaw that a reader can automatically tune out when reading the worlds on the page, but there’s no such escape when listening to a narration. 




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