Where Syndromes and Security Meet: Lock-In by John Scalzi

Copyright © 2014 by John Scalzi
Copyright © 2014 by John Scalzi

By all accounts, I should be more into John Scalzi’s body of work. I already follow his blog and I love his last book, RedshirtsHowever, I never had the time to get through his famous Old Man’s War series or other key novels.

However, this year he came out with a new standalone novel called Lock In and I knew I had to give it a read. Much like Redshirts, this story’s very accessible, with a touch more science fiction and social commentary balanced around a very tight murder mystery.

In the far future, a terrible outbreak of a disease known as Haden’s Syndrome affects millions of people worldwide, trapping them inside their own bodies. Money and years of research have allowed those victims (known as “Hadens”) to interact with the world through synthetic bodies (known as “threeps”) and human bodies for hire (known as “Integrators”). When Chris Shane, a well-known Haden, starts his job with the FBI, he finds himself investigating a murder in D.C. on the eve of a massive Haden protest march. With his partner Leslie Vann, Chris quickly finds himself lost in a conspiracy of corporate espionage and the growing Hadens subculture, all while questioning where he himself fits into this brave new world.

I will say that Chris Shane could have easily been a generic detective in a murder mystery, but as a Haden who relies on threeps to be an FBI Agent, he adds a layer of complexity, from his hardened shell and instant Web access to his bitterness over the treatment of Hadens in the US. From here we get a sympathetic lens into the Haden culture and how he interacts with other Syndrome victims. The same applies to his partner Vann, a former Integrator (meaning she has a different form of Haden’s). Both of them are a nice balance of virtues and flaws, like courage under fire versus self-loathing.

I also love the worldbuilding that Scalzi goes into, not all of which is based on Hadens. We see the necessities of threeps and Integrators and the Agora, but we also get a look at social implications. There’s the massive cut in federal spending on Hadens, a major shift toward privitization and a changing corporate landscape, a Haden separatist movement led by Cassandra Bell, and the resentment or alienation between Hadens and healthy human beings (with slurs like “clankers” and “Dodgers” thrown around for good measure). But we also get nice tidbits like driverless cars and a Navajo Nation server farm–small advances that add to the story’s atmosphere and a sense of the future where everything takes place.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the story and the atmosphere it developed. On a social science fiction level, it beautifully explores every aspect of a fictional disease. I would’ve liked to have focused a bit more on the Agora, the concept of liminal space, and Cassandra Bell’s separatists, but I can let it go for the sake of the plot. Speaking of which, the story is very tight, moving quickly through interviews, research, brief tussles with armed suspects, and the occasional expository dialogue. I thought the whole resolution in the final chapters was pretty solid, albeit a bit anticlimactic. Of course, real life is a bit anticlimactic, so maybe it’s just as well.

If you’re looking for a tight murder mystery with a heroic FBI agent, then this is your book. If you want a creative social science fiction story, then I continue to recommend this. And while I’ve been referring to the main character by the male pronoun this whole review, in truth, Shane is written with a level of ambiguity with regard to race and gender, so this is a rare opportunity for readers to delve into a story and picture the protagonist however they like. On that count alone, it’s definitely worth reading more than once.

Lock In is available for purchase through booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Bibliography: Scalzi, John. Lock In. New York: Tor Books, 2014.

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