Book Review: Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi, Lock In #1

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....


I think it has been two months already since I started the Short Fiction Friday feature on the blog and when I tweeted I was open for submissions I got a heads-up from Tiemen Zwaan (@TiemenZwaan) about the short story Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome. By that time I had heard of Lock In but not of that particular short story. Well I liked it, actually I liked a lot. Now I just had to wait for my copy of Lock In to arrive... I devoured this book in a single day. It is really good stuff. I have only read Old Man's War by John Scalzi so far and here he breaks some tropes by introducing very cool and unorthodox subjects. I am also going to say that Lock In will definitely make my Best of 2014 list. Guaranteed. I don't think I have gotten the same feeling after finishing a Science Fiction book since I read Love Minus Eighty.

I do have to say that the tone of the book is quite different that the short story of Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome. The focus in Lock In is directly on an police investigation and I do therefore recommend that you pick up Unlocked prior to reading Lock In as it for starters gives a lot of history to the story which will allow you to understand much more of what is going on and secondly it's pretty awesome, do you need more of an excuse? Anyway back to the story. Lock In takes place a few years from our own date, though there are many Science Fiction elements in the book it more revolves around being a murder mystery investigation that goes quite towards a thrilling theme as well. In the introducing chapters of the book you get introduced the two lead protagonists that you follow for the remainder of it. Veteran Federal agent Leslie Vann, who needs a new partner as her last one quit on some questionable grounds and the new rookie Federal agent and Vann's new partner Chris Shane, who is a "Haden" himself. They are called upon to investigate a crime scene with an Integrator (I will get to this in a minute), who has supposidley, the evidence is pointing his direction, committed the murder. One aspect of these Integrators is that they are able to harbor inside of their minds, the mind of an Haden, it's like a take over. Now many questions are being raised because did this Integrator commit the murder on his own? Or was their an Haden in the Integrator that committed this horrendous crime? If you look at all the evidence and what Integrators are and mostly where the boundaries lie, the latter case is most unlikely, but just what if... Vann and Shane really have their task cut out for them to solve this very complicated murder case and bring to justice the real person... This might sound like a pretty straightforward investigation story but trust it is not anything you have read before, I was impressed and still am by the world that John Scalzi managed to create and the idea's he is bringing to the front in Lock In.

So now a short explanation about the idea behind the world of Lock In. A terrible virus took the world by storm and infected a lot of people, first starting with flu like symptoms of which some turned into meningitis like ones and finally resulting in people being locked-in their bodies. At every of these steps some people survived but more people died, it was to demanding on the human body. The survivors that are now locked-in are called Hadens, this disease was named after America's First Lady who first got the notable symptoms (read the short story). Now since there was no cure available, scientist were led into new direction trying to make life as easy as possible for the Haden. This in turn led to two ways: First robots called "Threeps" where Haden's can upload their mind and walk about and interact with the normal world, secondly you have the large social network called The Agora where only Haden's are able to join and interact with each other. But as some people who were older when they contracted Haden's say, they much prefer the real world then the virtual one and only use it as an email server. There is also a third option in which you as a Haden can experience the world in much brighter detail. This is when you inhabit a Integrator, these are persons who also suffered from the Haden Syndrome but aren't locked-in. They are quite rare though and you have to be licensed and all. With everything that accompanied the Haden syndrom and especially the research costs and the treatment they were receiving, the "normal" humans started to despise the Haden's even so far as beating them up and terrorizing them in different ways. This caused a very strong division of the living society that brought along a lot of troubles. 

I have to say that the societal effects where stronger in Unlocked where you saw everything slowly spiral out of control, in Lock In it is more already at a steady level, it isn't solved completely and as a Haden people still frown upon you. I really liked the emphasis on the society and how they handle it all that John Scalzi showed in Lock In. You know when you reflect upon some of our own "mistakes" in history this is precisely how humans act... Actually quite horrific and confronting to be honest. I think if you have read this book you will look different upon other classes of our own society.. Don't know whether this is a message John Scalzi wanted to show but did got me thinking the least

Just as with the world that John Scalzi has created in Lock In the characters are also very interesting and not straightfoward at all. They aren't you average detectives. Take Shane for example, I already mentioned that he is a Haden. Now this really offered an unique point of view for the whole storyline. As by his eyes you learn that living as a Haden is far from as easy as people make it believe around every street corner you have to look out for yourself as people do not like you nor accept you. Shane has got on advantage working for him as he has very rich parents which allows him to walk around in the best Threeps that money can buy. But this doesn't make him a spoiled kid at all instead he uses all of his own funds to met out judgement to those who did the wrongs. One funny part of the story is that Shane still lives at home but desperately wants to leave his eldery house. John Scalzi breaks some nice stereotypes by Shane's character. Next is Vann's character, she is a hardass when it comes down to her personality not likely to give in. She is eager to grab to the bottle to wind down. On the first take she came over to me as just another veteran FBI agent, but soon John Scalzi completely turned my vision of her around, making you symphatise much more to Vann by all that she has gone through. Great way to build out her character and Vann offered a nice insight into the whole Integrator part of the story. Goof stuff. 

In the beginning of the story you are presented by merely facts of the crime and some small elaborations but as JohN Scalzi starts to pick up the pace in his story showing much more of what drives this world of his, Shane and Vann start to uncover more than they were hoping for and plans emerge that are very dire for the whole Haden community and indirectly for humans as well. I really, really liked the reasoning given in the end of the book and the emotional real-life encoutning offered by Vann topped it off brilliantly.

I think you can make up from the glowing review I am writing here that John Scalzi's Lock In is just brilliant stuff that you don't want to miss out on. From the first sentence I read of Unlocked I was hooked line and sinker to the idea behind Lock In. John Scalzi presents his idea in full colors and has created a very dangerous and dire setting, it's not only a story that focuses on the virus alone or it's consequences alone or how society is dealing with it, it is much more than those parts alone. It's a detective kind of story that combines all of the above mentioned aspects in a brilliant story. Besides the world, the two lead investigators, Shane and Vann are just as unique to read about, they offer some interesting perspectives that help bring this story to another level. You can see that I write brilliant a lot and it is justified, this book only get better the more you think about it. Now I had a quick peek on Goodreads and it says Lock In #1, will this be a series?? Fingers crossed! But in the mean I suggest you start reading this book. Right about. now. 

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