by John Scalzi
Cover Artist: Photo: Peter Lutjen
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765375865
Date: 26 August 2014 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Lock In by John Scalzi is a fun, exciting science fiction mystery set in the near future. While its background features millions of deaths and many of the characters are paralyzed for life, the book still has Scalzi's light touch. With interesting characters, a keep-you-guessing quick-moving mystery plot, and an intriguing background, the book more than compensates for its occasional overuse of cliché and coincidence. I am not surprised that there is already a deal to bring it to television.
The book opens with a HighSchoolCheatSheet.com article on the fictional Haden's syndrome. In the near future, 25 years before Lock In opens, a great flu pandemic killed 400 million people. Millions more, 4.25 million in the U.S., suffered from Lock In, essentially their body paralyzed, but with their brain still active. The U.S. government, whose First Lady was one of the first to experience Lock In, developed Personal Transports (robot bodies wireless controlled by Hadens, quickly nicknamed threeps). Another option for Hadens is to use Integrators, people who have a brain implant that allows Hadens to control their bodies temporarily. The Integrator remains conscious and can block the Haden from doing anything that could injure the body.
The book is narrated by Chris Shane, a Lock In sufferer from a very rich family, who uses threeps, not Integrators. As a boy, he was the poster child for Haden's Syndrome and is still famous. In Shane's first case as a new FBI agent, an Integrator, Nicholas Bell, is found with a dead body not in any database. But when he is asked why he killed the man, Bell said "I don't think I did," and his lawyer invokes Integrator-client privilege.
Later, while Shane is at a dinner for his father, who is considering a Senate run, he encounters Bell again, this time serving as an Integrator for Lucas Hubbard, CEO and chairman of Accelerant Investments. Bell's lawyer is also there, representing Accelerant too. Then, in the middle of dinner, the building housing Loudoun Pharma, whose CEO is also at this dinner, explodes. This is apparently caused by a Haden who leaves a message citing the radical Haden beliefs of Cassandra Bell, Nicholas' sister. Naturally, all of this is linked in a complex conspiracy involving business, politics, and new technology.
There are a few rough spots. Shane's partner, Agent Vann, is a somewhat cynical veteran with a mysterious past and a tendency to drink to excess--although in a slight departure from the cliché, Scalzi makes the partner an older woman. Shane is told that Vann's previous partner committed suicide to get away from her and that she is not as good as she thinks she is, and tends to be sloppy. Shane's new housemates prove conveniently useful--one is a doctor, the other an expert programmer --and Shane (and even his veteran partner) trust them too quickly. And the book makes a running gag about Shane's threeps being destroyed in the line of duty. Still these are minor problems in a very enjoyable book.
Lock In is a very entertaining, highly readable book. It is not deep into philosophy, although there is some discussion about Hadens being a new type of humans that shows Scalzi did some research into the deaf community. Since the science field is trying to pay more attention to diversity, it is worth noting that Shane is technically African-American, although the book only mentions that his father is African-American and his mother is white in passing. Lock In is a complete story, although there is certainly room for sequels. There is a novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome, published separately by Subterranean Press and available online at Tor.com.
Anyone who likes mystery, buddy cop movies, or near future science fiction will enjoy Lock In. So will anyone who has enjoyed Scalzi's other books. I expect to see this book on the Hugo ballot for this year. Strongly recommended.