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John Scalzi – Lock In (with bonus short story review “Unlocked”)

June 24, 2015

14. Lock In by John Scalzi (2014)

Read By: Wil Wheaton
Length: 7h 40min (336 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction

Started: 05 March 2015
Finished: 11 March 2015

Where did it come from? Downloaded from Audible.
Why do I have it? I like Scalzi’s books, and had been hearing about this one for a while.
How long has it been on my TBL pile? Since 18 November 2014.

Driving a robot
with your brain: not as fun if
that’s all you can do.

Summary: The new flu-like disease was unlike anything doctors had ever seen before; a majority of the infected died, a handful survived, but a number of patients were left with full brain function in completely immobile bodies – a conditions that came to be known as “lock in”. The disease was named after the most famous patient – the wife of President Haden – and massive amounts of federal funding were channeled into Haden’s Research and development, eventually leading to the creation of “threeps” – androids that can be remotely controlled by a Haden’s patient via an implanted neural network. Chris Shane is a Haden, and also the son of a famous athlete-turned-polititian, but he doesn’t want either of those things to influence his new job with the F.B.I. However, his first week finds him at a crime scene where the primary suspect is an integrator – an able-bodied person who is able to let a Haden’s patient temporarily take over their brain – so the case becomes rather personal whether he likes it or not. But determining who’s responsible for the crime – the integrator or the Haden “riding” him – is not as straightforward as it seems, and Shane and his partner must determine whether this is a random act of violence, or does it have to do with something deeper – perhaps the splinter group of Hadens who want to exist entirely in the virtual world, or maybe with the political and economic ramifications of the impending end of Haden’s funding?

Review: I knew about the set-up of the world when I went in (I’d read the prequel novella Unlocked first) but didn’t know anything about the story (I wasn’t deliberately keeping myself in the dark, but it seems like almost all of the promotional material/summaries I’d read were focused on the worldbuilding). I don’t know what I was expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a detective murder mystery (although I don’t know why not; it’s not necessarily out of Scalzi’s wheelhouse). But it wasn’t an unpleasant surprise; I thought the mystery was well-built, and while I figured out what was going on somewhat before the characters did, there was still enough novelty in figuring out how they were going to deal with it, which is NOT something that I had predicted.

There were a lot of similarities to other books I’d read before – one of my friends pointed out that between this and the Old Man’s War universe, Scalzi really likes the idea of getting people into new bodies. While that similarity didn’t bother me (heck, it didn’t even occur to me until she said it), I had more of an issue keeping this book separate from Ready Player One. The plots of the books are not particularly similar, but they both involve people logging in to a virtual community, and building their own virtual spaces separate from the physical spaces inhabited by their bodies. This was exacerbated by the fact that I listened to the audiobook version of both books, and both were narrated by Wil Wheaton (who does a great job with both). And in truth, it wasn’t that bad; unlike Ready Player One, Lock In spends almost all its time in the real (physical) world.

The writing in this one was on par with Scalzi’s other books – nothing exceptional but nothing exceptionable either. His use of basic dialogue tags during quick-fire banter-y dialogue can get really boring (a lot of “____,” X said. “_____,” Y said. “_____,” X said), and again, that is exacerbated by the audiobook where your eye can’t skip over them. But the story was good, there were some good touches of humor (although I didn’t find this as funny as some of this other books), and it was clear that he had thought through a lot of the ramifications of various aspects of his new world. I also appreciate a book that can combine epidemiology, neurobiology, computer programing, politics, and economics without ever getting lecture-y about any of them, all while telling me a good story. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Scalzi is a very good storyteller, and this book contains a lot of science fiction worldbuilding and raises a lot of interesting questions, without being overwhelmingly “science-fiction-y”. Fans of Scalzi’s more far-fetched novels will certainly enjoy it, as will fans of more traditional mystery/thrillers that don’t mind a little bit of science fiction mixed in.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

First Line: Haden’s syndrome is the name given to a set of continuing physical and mental conditions and disabilities initially brought on by “the Great Flu,” the influenza-like global pandemic that resulted in the deaths of more than 400 million people worldwide, either through the initial flu-like symptoms, the secondary stage of meningitis-like cerebral and spinal inflammation, or through complications arising due to the third stage of the disease, which typically caused complete paralysis of the voluntary nervous system, resulting in “lock in” for its victims.

I also read Unlocked, a short story / novella whose subtitle is “An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome”. And that’s what it was – short segments from various people – medical professionals, scientists, government officials, historians, Haden’s patients, etc. – detailing the origin and spread of the disease and its immediate aftermath.

I’d read the text version before tackling the main novel, although the Audible version of the book also contains a reading of the short story after the main novel. Reading it first (or at all) is not necessary; Scalzi explains what’s going on well enough in the book itself. And it’s not really a story so much, more like solid worldbuilding. But as someone who appreciates good and detailed worldbuilding, I was all over this – I thought it was fascinating, bringing up lots of interesting thought questions, and I think I did appreciate some more of the references and some of the deeper issues going on under the surface in the novel itself.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2015 6:43 am

    I haven’t read this yet, but it’s been on my list for a while! Maybe I should go for the audio; I think enough time has gone by since I listened to Ready Player One.

  2. June 25, 2015 3:29 pm

    This was my first experience with John Scalzi, and I was favorably impressed. Very sciencey sci-fi isn’t always my thing, nor are murder mysteries, but Scalzi combined both in a story that I totally enjoyed.

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