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.
This book is crazy, and I mean that in the best way possible. I absolutely love the world created here, some 25 years or so into the future, where Hadens are now a part of society and the definition of being a person has changed dramatically.
Hadens are those who are in the long-term, seemingly irreversible “lock in” phase of Haden’s syndrome. Their bodies are alive and their minds are fully functional, but they have lost the ability to control or manage their voluntary systems. An entire industry has sprung up around the vast number of Hadens, resulting in the creation of neural networks and “threeps”. Hadens are implanted with a neural network in their brains, which gives them the ability to control a robotic form (known as a “threep”, named for C3PO) that moves in the “normal” world as an avatar of sorts. The body is still the actual person, but the threep is also a manifestation of the person, and conducts business and goes about life just the same as anyone else.
Battles have sprung up over Haden rights, government funding of Haden resources, and the issue of Haden separatism and culture. And what makes this book amazing and so fascinating is that this is all background to the actual plot — which revolves around a dead body, a murder investigation, and a newbie FBI agent, who just happens to be one of the most famous Hadens, thanks to a celebrity father and his early years as a Haden poster-child.
On top of the terrific plot and world-building, the writing is a treat. John Scalzi provides complex technical and medical details, but makes it comprehensible and accessible through the characters’ dialogue. The exposition feels natural, not like a lecture. On top of that, the characters are fully fleshed out, have distinct personalities, and some can be awfully funny, especially main character Chris Shane.
My reading tip is that before reading Lock In, it’s well worth your time to check out the novella that John Scalzi released just prior to the publication of Lock In. It’s called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, and provides background on the onset, diagnosis, treatment, and political ramification of the disease. It’s utterly fascinating, and adds a lot to the understanding of Lock In, letting us jump right into the events of the novel without needing a whole lot of time or pages devoted to backstory.
Final word: Lock In is a bizarre and original science fiction/crime thriller mash-up, and I just loved it. My conclusion is that I haven’t read nearly enough John Scalzi yet in my life, and I need to fix that ASAP.
Oh, and a final, final world: While this book appears to be a stand-alone and I have no reason to think that it’s not, I could easily see an ongoing series revolving around Agents Shane and Vann and their crime-fighting adventures in a post-Haden world. John Scalzi, pretty please?
Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Science fiction