Lock In, by John Scalzi
Posted September 12, 2015on:
where I got it: purchased new
A near future scifi thriller, Lock In has an engrossing and compelling start. I really loved the first few chapters of Lock In, really dug the world Scalzi built. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either being sneakishly subtle, or heavyhanded with his observations on how society in general treats anyone who is different from the norm, especially those with disabilities. The novel takes place some 20 years after Haden’s Syndrome has left its mark on humanity. A type of encephalitis, many victims of Haden’s suffer from “lock in”, completely aware and awake, but unable to move or communicate. Thanks to neural technology, people who live their lives locked in (known as Hadens) can remotely use robots, called Threeps, to somewhat experience normal life. Even better, is the option to use an Integrator, a person who will allow a Haden to use their body for a contracted time. For many Hadens, the only people who see their actual, physical bodies are their immediate family members and their home health care aides.
Chris Shane, poster boy for Haden’s and now all grown up, chose a horrible week to start his new job at the FBI. They aren’t quite sure what to do with him, and he’s been partnered with Agent Vann, who loves antagonizing the local cops even more than she enjoys self medicating. So, right off the bat we’ve got some interesting characters. Shane is trying to get out of the shadow of his famous father, Vann has a secretive history she tries to drink away, and they’ve got a really weird murder investigation on their hands.
Lock In was fun and entertaining, and could be a great gate-way book for your friends who “aren’t into science fiction” but read James Rollins thrillers like it’s going out of style (that’s not a dig, I actually really enjoy Rollins). This isn’t one of those change-the-world books, it’s not overly ambitious, it’s not deep, it’s just entertaining and fun.
Shane was a really fun character to follow, he adds a lot of humor to the story and snarks like the best of them. Scalzi focuses mostly on Shane and Vann’s investigation, and does little to explore the huge conversation that’s danced around for most of the book. A conversation that that never quite pokes the elephant in the room of wouldn’t it be cheaper in the long run to research a cure for Haden’s Syndrome rather than spend billions of dollars a year on the care and feeding of the sufferers? And more importantly, does “fixing” Hadens sufferers imply they are broken to begin with? it’s an interesting itch to scratch – is a disability something that should be fixed? As I said, the conversation is skirted around, because this is a summer read thriller, not social commentary, right?
More investigative thriller than science fiction novel, the focus is more on the chrome, snark, and pace, and less on the actual science. In fact, I think that’s what made me feel so let down. The story is going at a breakneck pace, Shane is making progress on the murder investigation, and then the end just feels too neatly wrapped up. Supporting characters do some hand wavium to explain things, and poof, the story is over. It was very rushed, and felt like a let down after all the cool build up.
Summer might be over, but Lock In would make a great beach read.