After a flu-like virus sweeps the world, a percentage of the population is “locked into” their bodies — unable to interact or communicate with the outside world. One of the victims of the virus is the wife of President Hayden, leading to the nation and world putting an emphasis on research to find ways to combat the disease as well as help those suffering from its after-effects find a way to once again become a participating member of society.
The result is a variety of new technologies stemming from a neural network that allows victims to download themselves into mechanical bodies known as threeps or into the minds of willing flesh and blood surrogates, for a limited amount of time.
As John Scalzi’s Lock In opens, governmental subsidies and funding for the victims of Hayden’s syndrome is about to be reduced, leading to protests and conflicts on both sides of the issue. And that would be the week that Chris Shane, one of the most visible victims of the syndrome thanks to famous parents, is about to take a job with the FBI’s crime unit that investigates crimes related to the neural network.
To welcome Chris to the job, a murder has taken place — one that could have implications far beyond those that are immediately apparent. And it’s up to the team of Chris and a partner who was trained to be part of the mind-sharing program but dropped out years before.
In many ways, Lock In reminded me of Issac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. And if you know my preferences in reading material, you’ll know that is some pretty higTh praise since Caves of Steel ranks among my favorite novels — genre or otherwise. The pairing of two unlikely cops on a case that has implications far beyond the initial blush feels like it’s right out of Asimov. But there’s also an examination of how changes in technology can reveal what it means to be human and the implications for that on our rights as we move forward. Like a lot of the more memorable science fiction, Lock In if offering up an examination of certain issues of our time, all under the disguise of a future world setting.
And, for the most part, it works very well. The novel is part science-fiction novel, part procedural and it works very well as that hybrid. The familiar nature of the police procedural helps Scalzi set the table to some of his bigger ideas and concepts to the table, keeping them palatable to readers and not feeling like he or we have bitten off more than we can chew. He also weaves in enough detail to make the resolution of the mystery fit not only as from the murder mystery aspect but also within his science-fiction universe.
Reading Lock In, I can’t help but feel as though this is an early front runner for the Hugo Award for best novel next year. It’s certainly on the running to be one of my top five books I’ve read this year.
One final note. I’ve seen a couple of reviews stating that you have to read an earlier Scalzi novella in order to fully enjoy Lock In. I’ll say that I went into the book without reading the prior story and had no issue with figuring out what was happening or losing patience with Scalzi for not filling in certain details quickly enough. I’m certainly curious to go and read the novella now, but I don’t think it’s essential to have read it in order to fully enjoy the novel.
Of course, you can take that with a grain of salt since I also love with the current series of Doctor Who and from what I gather, I’m in the minority there as well.