Lock In by John Scalzi
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: August 26 2014
Source: ARC from publisher at Comic Con
The nitty-gritty: A terrible virus sets the stage for a futuristic police procedural, filled with unique ideas, snappy dialog, and a bit of social commentary about what it means to be disabled.
“I royally pissed off Trinh tonight,” I said. “I think she hates me more than she hates you.”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Vann said. “But if you got her even halfway there I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I don’t drink,” I said.
“Good,” Vann said. “Then you buy me a drink. Come on. I know a bar.”
“I don’t really think you should be hitting the bars tonight,” I said. “You have a hole in your shoulder.”
“It’s a scratch,” Vann said.
“A hole in your shoulder from a bullet,” I said.
“It was a small bullet,” Vann said.
“Fired by someone trying to kill you.”
“All the more reason I need a drink.”
This was my first John Scalzi book, but it won’t be my last. Scalzi’s humor is definitely in sync with my own, and I enjoyed the playful and humorous banter between the characters immensely (see above). Scalzi took a tried-and-true formula—the police procedural—and gave it a unique futuristic spin. The story sounds simple enough: two FBI agents, one a rookie and the other a veteran, try to solve a murder. What aren’t so simple are the complex relationships that emerge between the victim and the guy caught red-handed—literally—at the crime scene. Scalzi’s story has multiple twists and turns that were confusing at times, but the murder was almost beside the point. I was much more interested in the characters and the crazy but thoroughly interesting medical condition called Haden’s syndrome, the result of a world-wide pandemic that has become the norm for many people.
I loved this book in much the same way that I love the television show Castle: the murder is somewhat interesting, but what keeps me coming back again and again are the characters and their relationships. Scalzi’s dialog is perfection. He’s also done a ton of research about viruses, computer hardware and software, and corporate and political America (or maybe he’s just really smart!).
The story begins with a brief introductory chapter, told in the form of a Wikipedia-like entry, on the history Haden’s syndrome. My first reaction to this was “info dump!” However, it turned out to be a handy tool that I referred back to more than once while reading the book. Haden’s is a very complex disease. Many people who contract the virus simply die, but others survive the fever and later become “locked in,” unable to move their bodies while their brains continue to function normally. These Hadens use android-like conveyances called “threeps,” where they can upload their brains and use the threep to move freely about, giving them nearly normal lives. Still other survivors of the virus called Integrators, the smallest percentage of all, retain their physical and mental capacities, but have the ability to allow locked in Hadens to “borrow” their bodies (for money, of course).
I found this set-up fascinating, and while somewhat confusing (there is a lot of discussion about neural networks that frankly went over my head), I went with the premise and had no problem buying into Scalzi’s future.
Our main character, a famous Haden named Chris Shane who has recently joined the FBI, and his new partner, the jaded and unpredictable Leslie Vann, join forces to solve the puzzle of a murdered Haden that appears to be a suicide. Things get complicated when the perp at the scene turns out to be an Integrator who has no knowledge of what happened. On the sidelines, trouble over a controversial bill is brewing, a bill which has just been passed and which will drastically cut funding for Hadens. And it’s only Chris’s second day on the job!
Scalzi has given us a disabled main character, which was a bold move that really works. At first I was having a hard time picturing exactly what the heck a threep looked like, but then it clicked and I suddenly had a much better understanding of how Chris and his fellow Hadens got around. (see above visual reference!) I loved the fact that twenty-some years after the first wave of the virus, people are more or less comfortable interacting with Hadens and their threeps, although no matter what decade you live in, I suppose there will always be people who are prejudiced.
I especially loved Chris’s partner Vann, who has some very personal secrets that she holds close—secrets that she eventually shares with Chris. Vann is a heavy drinker and always seems to spend her free hours in a bar looking to get laid. But she cares about her job, and I loved her relationship with Chris as she slowly begins to trust him. Plus she gets some really funny dialogue!
Some of the political situations in Lock In echo our current—and ongoing—state of affairs: big corporations lying in wait to take over the little guys, the plight of the disabled and who is going to pay to take care of them, among other hot topics. The author wraps it all up in the context of the story, and although it could have turned into a rant about the downfalls of our society, the events are simply woven among the other story threads, and it all feels just right.
One element that I didn’t get enough of was the virtual reality world, created just for Hadens, called the Agora. The Agora is a place where Hadens can go to interact with other Hadens, and where “Dodgers” (regular humans) aren’t allowed. It had the potential to be a very cool part of the story, and while there were a few scenes that took place there, I wanted more.
Overall, though, Lock In was a great read, filled with just enough action for those who are looking for it, and just the right kind of humor to keep me laughing up until the end. Highly recommended.
Big thanks to Tor Books for the review copy. Above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
Check out John Scalzi’s blog Whatever.
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