A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{September 8, 2014}   Lock In by John Scalzi

lockinPlot: 25 years ago, a virus spread throughout the world. Though its symptoms were flu-like, it caused 1% of patients to become locked into their bodies, conscious but unable to move in any way. Those suffering of Lock In became known as Hadens. Agent Chris Shane is a Haden and is assigned to a murder case involving an integrator, a person who can share their body with Hadens. This case will put Chris in the midst of political and economic upheaval surrounding new Hadens-related legislation.

This review is based on the audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton. Please note that there is a second version of the audiobook narrated by Amber Benson.

I was already a few chapters in when I finally realized why this novel came in two different audio versions with two different narrators: Scalzi never once specifies whether Chris, who narrates the novel, is a man or a woman. I imagine that in a paper version, the reader’s own biases and imagination will fill in the gender. I’m curious to find out how most readers read Chris; I suspect “male” is the overwhelming answer, but I might be pleasantly surprised. Meanwhile bear with me as I attempt to write a review without using pronouns.

This is a fascinating book on many fronts. It is, on the one hand, an intriguing police procedural with many twists and turns that kept me guessing about both the criminal and the means used to commit the crimes until the end. Agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann follow leads across the country, into a Navajo reservation, into the boardrooms of major corporations and into the very depths of the human brain. And they are put in mortal danger more than once as they get closer to the improbable truth.

It is also a fascinating sci-fi novel that explores disability and the mind. The Hadens function in society thanks to robots known as Threeps (after C3PO) and integrators with which they can interface while their bodies remain immobile. They are also able to interact and form communities in a virtual world known as The Agora, a world all but inaccessible to non-Hadens. Some Hadens spend most of their lives in Threeps, others like Casssandra Cain, never leave The Agora. I thought Scalzi’s comparison to the Deaf community was especially apt. He explores their relationships with non-Hadens, with their own bodies and with the world. But it is the integrators like Chris’ partner Vann who are most interesting. These are people who volunteer to share a body and mind with strangers. The implications and difficulties of such integration are at the very center of the novel’s mystery.

The audiobook also includes a short story which recounts, by means of testimonials, the beginnings and the effects of Hadens on the US population as well as the developments of Threeps. The narrative style reminded me a bit of World War Z though it isn’t exactly a tale of apocalyptic horror. It isn’t necessary to understand the story but it adds depth to the world and makes me wish for more stories in this universe.

Lock In is a brilliant sci-fi mystery. I couldn’t stop listening. Scalzi seems to get better with every book and finishing this novel only makes me eager for his next one.

2014 (#50)


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