Book Review: Lockstep

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder 

When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.

Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.

Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
 


I have been reading more and more of the hard hitting science fiction, just to name one Hannu Rajaniemi. Karl Schroeder is a books have received a lot of praise and have been nominated and have won several distinct award. Karl Schroeder's books focus on a distinct element that I enjoy reading about in science fiction: far-future speculations. I always finds it interesting to read just what visions authors have of the future. Karl Schroeder's Lockstep has one great concept working in it's favor, Lockstep itself, though it was a bit confusing at first, it's really a brilliant concept. Lockstep is one of those hard hitting science fiction books that will set you thinking. 

The story in Lockstep opens up directly with our main protagonist in the focus, Toby McGonigal. Toby was send out on a mission to pay a visit to a planet and claim it for his family, however this goes wrong and he finds himself 14,000 years into the future and in a galaxy that he has never heard off. During those 14,000 years that Toby has been asleep the rest of humanity has colonized the part of the universe he finds himself in. This universe consists of almost 70,000 different planets, and these planets all have one thing in common they operate under a specific regime termed Lockstep, wherein the planets alternate between a frozen state and an awake state, this is mostly owed to the fact that the living on these planets is hard and the resources are limited. To be honest this Lockstep idea is just brilliant and will get to it in a bit. Back to the story. Toby finds himself in a strange place, he doesn't know any of the planets let alone how the "daily" life goes. He soon get confronted by several inhabitants of the planets and is explained in detail just what the Lockstep context entails. What he also learns is that he has become a sort of legend amongst these planets. He has been termed the Emperor of Time. This legend was called into being by his family, not only did Toby lost his family but they lost him as well, with the Lockstep they tried to gain time to find Toby once again. So Toby finds out that his family is running the Lockstep system and in particular, his brother Peter, though they were best friends in the past as young boys, Peter has become quite a tyrant and is known throughout the Lockstep universe as the Chairman. With the reappearance of Toby, Peter has set his mind to eradicate (and thats saying his nicely) the returned legend... Now Toby, completely new to the Lockstep worlds has to defeat those he has held dear for so long...


What I liked a lot about Karl Schroeder's story was that it isn't the type of science fiction which relies on throwing random high tech words in the storyline, there are some books that just mention technology of the future to try to liven up the story and this often turns out for the worse. You can directly see that Karl Schroeder knows his science fiction and knows how to write about this in a thoroughly engaging but mind-crunching manner (meaning this in a positive way of course). Yes I am not going to lie, the whole Lockstep system on the first take sound very impressive and took me a while to fully grasp it, but I have to say it's shear brilliance, it's something that I haven't read off before. So what is this Lockstep idea exactly? The living in the Lockstep universe is harsh, the environment doesn't allow for much resources and in order to spare the resources the inhabitants of the Lockstep universe alternate between a living and frozen state, i.e. on one planet 360/1 they are awake for 1 month every 30 years, this ration can vary from planet to planet. And this bring along some consequences. Because amongst the planets there is also trade taking place and stealing of course (which is tolerated to a certain amount). Next to the Lockstep principle there are plenty of other science fiction influence that make this one exciting read space travel and "alien" races, all these references aren't dropped like an information dump but you are gradually introduced into them as the story progresses and picks up pace. Karl Schroeder keeps the explanations to a minimum just enough so everything is clear for the reader but doesn't elaborate to much to make them a drag. He makes the science fiction in his story readily approachable for the non-nerd, and makes this story readily suited for a much larger audience. 

Lockstep has a young character cast, Toby himself is just seventeen year old and the people that he meets up with during his adventures do have the same age as him, this does explain the reason why several other reviews say that this is a young adult oriented book, however I do think that some of the idea's might be to hard to be understood by them. Anyway back to the characters. Toby is a great main protagonist, when you first read about him and he gets stranded in his space ship, well yes he is scared a bit but his strong determination soon takes over. Similarly this happens when he gets confronted by the facts of the Lockstep universe and when he finds out what exactly happened with his family and why they are after him. His character is one that a lot of younger readers are able to relate to, his never giving up attitude, a smart kid, avid videogamer and always being the helping hand will appeal to them. As for the secondary characters like Corva, Jaysir and Shylif that add their own influence to the story, these native Lockstep inhabitants get befriended with Toby and help him in his cause. Each of these secondary characters was well fleshed out and Karl Schroeder gave them their own personalities. Now one thing that I always enjoy to read about in stories are when the bad guys get their perspectives. There is a short but powerful focus on the siblings of Toby, his brother Peter and his sister Evayne. This level of secondary cast added a completely new layer of depth to the story. 

One last thing, from my above words you might think that the mood of the story is dark and bleak, well at certain moments it is, but Karl Schroeder creates a nice balancing act in his story switching from troubled moments to more moments of joy. Take for example the feline companions that Corva has, the Denners, this mix of genetically modified creatures are true at heart companions. They do have more meaning to the story though. But just as a dog is man's best friend, in Toby and Corva's time its the Denners, this leads to some more funny and lighthearted moments. 

Lockstep is one of those science fiction books that you have to have read. It might not be a book for everyone but it has some very cool concepts and when I come to think of it, it reminds me on some fronts to that of Transcendental from James Gunn, also a unique science fiction story where the focus isn't necessarily on deep hard hitting technology but more about the story and journey of the characters within the story. Yes the Lockstep principle I have been raving about if cool, but in essence the story is on Toby and how he reacts after being asleep for 14,000 years. Karl Schroeder writes his science fiction with clear confidence and he knows it through and through. Lockstep isn't only for the die hard science fiction fan but it is readily approachable for everyone. The Lockstep universe is a great idea that Karl Schroeder explores to the fullest within his story and the characters and aliens that inhabit it make the world even though they live in Lockstep, feel vibrant and dynamic. 

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