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BOOK REVIEW: Lock In by John Scalzi

| 11 October 2014 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Lock In by John Scalzi

September 2014, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. 4% suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1% find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
1% doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the US 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 fully restore the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked-in can interact with other humans, whether locked-in or not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing those who are locked in to occasionally ‘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 had a pretty good idea going in that I would enjoy this book. What I didn’t know was that I was going to spend a whole day telling myself I would read “just one more chapter” putting off breakfast… and then lunch… until there were no more chapters left to negotiate over, and it was practically dinner time.

Often, when entering a fictional world that is different for our own–be they far in the future, on another world, or in a place ruled by magic–we have to learn the rules, and there’s often at least a little confusion as we try to catch up and figure out what exactly is going on.

I didn’t find this issue with Lock In at all, though I do have to disagree with something said in the blurb up there. There are actually three technologies that help those who are locked in.

1) The Agora – a virtual reality environment which is intended for Hadens(people who are locked in) only.
2) “Threeps” – androids, nicknamed after C3PO, which allow Hadens to interact in the physical world.
3) Integrators – People who suffered the meningitis part of the illness, but didn’t get locked in. Their brain structure was changed in such a way that they can allow Hadens to ride their body for a while, and experience the world like a physically normal person.

The world building is so effortless, so smoothly laid over the top of our own, that the reader is able to slip into this future version of our world without any issue. There was no infodump to wade through, and information was introduced subtly when needed.

We’re introduced to Agent Chris Shane on their first day as an FBI agent, and we get thrown into the action pretty much straight away.

It’s full of banter between agents Vann and Shane:

“I gave you access yesterday,” Vann said.
“You did?”
“You’re my partner now.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “But what would you have done if you met me and decided I was an untrustworthy asshole?”
Vann shrugged. “My last partner was an untrustworthy asshole. I shared my box with her.”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“She got shot,” Vann said.”


“He’s not a flake, I promise.”
“He better not be. I’d hate to have to kill him and frame you for it.”
“That reminds me,” I said.
“Me threatening to kill someone reminds you of something?” Vann asked, surprised. “We haven’t known each other that long, Shane.”


“Did she tell you I set puppies on fire, too?” Vann asked.
“She did not,” I said. “It may have been implied.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t think you set puppies on fire.”

Agent Shane and others:

“Agent Beresford?” I asked.
“Damn, that’s creepy,” the man said. “This threep’s been in the corner for three years without moving, and suddenly it gets up. It’s like a statue coming to life.”
“Surprise,” I said.
“I mean, we’ve been using it as a hat rack.”
“Sorry to deprive you of your office furniture.”
“It’s only for the day. You Shane?”

And the exploration of what racism might look like in this new world:

”Who’s the clank?” The man asked Vann as he met us at the precinct. My facial scan software popped him up as George Davidson, captain of the Metro Second Precinct.
“Wow, really?” I said before I could stop myself.
“I used the wrong word, didn’t I,” Davidson said, looking at me. “I can never remember if ‘clank’ or ‘threep’ is the word I’m not supposed to be using today.”
”Here’s a hint,” I said. “One comes from a beloved android character from one of the most popular films of all time. The other describes the sound of broken machinery. Guess which one we like better.”
”Got it,” Davidson said. “I thought you people were on strike today.”
“Jesus,” I said, annoyed.
”Touchy threep,” Davidson said, to Vann.
“Asshole cop,” Vann said, to Davidson.


Hubbard smiled, showing his teeth. “I don’t borrow someone else’s body to pretend I don’t have Haden’s, Jim,” he said. “I borrow someone else’s body because otherwise there’s a certain percentage of people who forget I’m a person.”
“All the more reason for a cure,” Buchold said.
“No,” Hubbard said. “Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.'”

There’s action, there’s adventure, there are thoughts on what it means to be human, and there’s a big ol’ mystery to solve.

The only two problems I had with this book were:
– That one scene where there were two characters talking to each other, named Roanhorse and Redhouse.  
– I can’t forget the story and do it all over for the first time again. 

If you can appreciate good world building and a dark sense of humour, and if you like your sci-fi plausible, read this book. Now. 

I feel the need to give shout out to the author’s wife, Kristine Blauser Scalzi, because John claims in the acknowledgments that we would not have this book without her, and… that’s not a world I would want to live in.
This was my first Scalzi, and it will not be my last.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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