Wednesday, April 29, 2015

“Lock In” by John Scalzi

“Lock In” is a science fiction novel by writer John Scalzi which in some ways is less sci-fi and more police procedural. I read the book because of the writer’s previous work and I have to say I was not disappointed.

The novel starts 25 years after a highly contagious flu virus was exposed to the world. Most who got sick experienced nothing worse than normal flu-like symptoms but for 1% of the victims, the virus caused them to be fully awake, but unable to move or respond to any stimulus. This is known as the locked-in syndrome. The illness also came to be known as "Haden's Syndrome" and its victims were called "Hadens".

Technological advances however gave a lifeline to the Hadens. Humanoid robotic personal transport units were developed and when controlled by a Haden's brainwaves, the “Threeps” (nicknamed after C-3PO from Star Wars) gave the Hadens a way to interact with the outside world.

There is also another way for Hadens to interact with the world. A small percent of the virus victims has their brains “rewired”. These individuals are called "Integrators", a person who can let a Haden use their bodies much like a Threep only with the added bonus of begin able to feel with a human body.

The novel has FBI agents Chris Shane (who is a Haden) and Leslie Vann assigned to a murder which could Haden-related. The main suspect is an "Integrator" which complicates the case because if he was carrying a Haden, then the actual murderer was not the one wielding the knife, but the Haden controlling him. The case is in many ways what made this book so interesting.

John Scalzi did a lot of world-building in this book. The idea of exploring a world in the aftermath of a world-wide epidemic is great. Yes, it had been done before but Scalzi used technology not only as a way to combat the epidemic but as a way of life in the aftermath. The epidemic is over, there is no cure, but life goes on and technology is the answer. Scalzi used the disease as a way to create a new social class; people who are victims of the virus, but not victims of life. There is practically no Hadens in this book who swallow in self-pity; all of them want to live and they used tech to do so.

The idea behind this is fantastic and kind of unique. Scalzi do a lot of info-dump but in many ways it was necessary because of how deep the world is. He not only creates the world but also fleshed it out in many ways. The discrimination faced by the Hadens; the living standards of Hadens; how the Hadens used the internet to travel long distances; even the unique family problems they faced; readers who like fleshed out worlds will find a lot of joy in this novel.

Having said that, I do have some issues with this novel. The end was a problem for me. I understand the novel was in many ways a police procedural, but having the villain break in the interrogation room was passé. That’s something I expect in a TV show (I read Legendary TV actually did acquire the rights to adapt into a TV pilot), not a novel. After all the technological advances shown in the novel, the way to break the case was…old fashion police interrogation? Maybe this was something Scalzi was aiming for. If it was, then success to him but I thought the change in pace was a problem.

I also thought the characters in this novel did not match up to Scalzi’s previous work. Chris Shane was nowhere near as interesting as Jack Holloway in “Fuzzy Nation” or Andrew Dahl in “Redshirts”. The supporting cast fared even worse.

However I would still recommend “Lock In”. The world-building is great, the pace is fast, and the idea behind the novel is unique. For a fun, fast and interesting read, pick this one up! 

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