Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Synopsis for Lock In by John Scalzi

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

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John Scalzi’s skill at building full, futuristic worlds that border upon being a character themselves is on full display in Lock In. While ultimately the story of Lock In is a rather mundane one – a murder mystery – it’s the setting that gets you. In a not-too-distant future, a significant portion of the population in the U.S. suffers from ‘Lock In’, the last stage of a viral epidemic that has no cure. Those with lock in are stuck in their bodies, completely paralyzed but otherwise fully functioning.

Years later, the existence of ‘threeps’ – android body analogues used by those who are locked in to remain a part of society – is something that is relatively common, if not widely accepted. Lock In touches on several themes, from the advancement of technology to the treatment of minorities to the role of government subsidies in the tech sector. It never becomes preachy, though, and all these themes serve to build a world that is entirely believable.

The characters, however, can be a little hard to connect with. The characters don’t seem to feature the same development as can be found in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. He tries the same tactic – small details painting broad strokes – but it doesn’t work nearly as well in Lock In. The plot, too, boils down to a rather mundane conspiracy that wouldn’t be out of place in an old techno-thriller of the 90s.

Lock In is still an enjoyable read, and a short one, but mostly for the world than the characters or plot. I’d love to see it explored more in the future.

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David Andrews is a long time blogger and writer, a fan of video games, books, history, and podcasts. You can find him on Twitter @proceduraldave

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