the Little Red Reviewer

Lock In, by John Scalzi

Posted on: September 12, 2015

Lock_In_CoverLock In, by John Scalzi

published 2014

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.

13 Responses to "Lock In, by John Scalzi"

Well, that does sound very different, and certainly right up my alley lately. Will check it out!


If you read the prequel novella Unlocked, you’ll see that Scalzi does deal with the intensive research efforts undertaken in response to the pandemic.


OK, I have to bring up a fun fact because I fell into the same trap. Chris’ gender is actually never disclosed. I am always so curious to see if people default to the male gender for this as it’s so incredibly hard not to. Agree this was a fun read.


huh. yeah, just kinda assumed Chris was a guy. it explains that scene near the end where Chris says “surprised?” when Leslie Vann finally sees him (her?) face to face. I guess if no one ever sees your physical body, and you’re walking around in a robotic avatar, you can project whatever you want to the world. If they make this into a TV, how will they handle the ambiguity?

Did you read Swirksy’s If You Were A Dinosaur My Love? I always assumed the person telling the story was a girl, but others thought the person was a guy.


For the audiobook, they released two versions. One with a male narrator and one with a female. I was baffled about that until I was reading and realized the gender is never stated, so I think they did that to not commit. If I had realized, I think I would have picked the female narrator since I could tell I would make the male gender assumption without the help of a male narrator.
(I’ve not read the other book)


Like you, I had assumed that Chris was a guy, and didn’t realize until after I had finished that no one’s gender (and sexuality too, I guess) or ethnicity was mentioned at all! It also explains why there is male and female narrator versions of the audio book.

Really enjoyed this novel, though! This was my first Scalzi novel, actually. I’ll be looking forward to the sequel 🙂


so, is this an example of “gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc, don’t matter, so long as it’s a compelling story”?


I guess? I mean, I was (apparently) too focused on the mystery. I didn’t even realize it until I read someone else’s review. Then I went back to check the book, because I couldn’t believe it.

I would love to see some stats of what gender and race readers originally though Chris was, and if/when they realized it wasn’t mentioned.


Yes, you fell into Scalzi’s gender trap. What you fail to make clear, I think is that THIS IS A CRIME NOVEL with a SF setting. This is a good crossover book for readers of both genres, and I didn’t find it as “lite” as you did, there’s a lot that’s thought-provoking in the book about the way society reacts to those who are different


i did! I fell right in!

my friends that only read crime and contemporary thrillers, I know I could recommend this to them and they’d do great with it.


I’ve had this for some time – I actually meant to read it for last November’s sci fi event so I can now dust it off for this year. Light and entertaining Sci-fi suits me.
Lynn 😀


it’s a great choice for SciFi month!


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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