Lock In by John Scalzi

I was pretty excited to see that John Scalzi would be visiting Joseph Beth in Lexington to promote his new science fiction novel Lock In. Scalzi had acted as the guest emcee and introduced Neil Gaiman at a local signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I was intrigued enough to follow Scalzi on Twitter. As I became more familiar with this author’s social media presence, I decided to pick up Old Man’s War as my first foray into straight up science fiction in a long time. I loved the realistic dialogue, the trademarked technology, and the mysterious Colonial Defense Forces. For one reason or another I had not had the chance to read any more books in the series but I thought it would be cool to go get my worn, second-hand copy of Old Man’s War signed by this neat author who seemed like a real human being on social media. And since he was there to promote a new book, I’d probably pick that up as well to support a great local bookstore.

It turned out to be a really great move on my part to attend this signing. I knew Scalzi was relatively local to this part of the country, as it was mentioned at the Gaiman signing, but the booksellers were on good enough terms to bring him an unsolicited ukelele to tune, which I thought spoke very well of all parties involved. Scalzi then proceeded to open his talk with his ukelele cover of “I melt with you.” I was pretty much charmed from that point on. After some great Q&A and authorly advice, I left with my shiny new copy of Lock In and a Modern English song on loop in my head.

Rookie FBI Agent Chris Shane is one of the most famous locked in survivors of Hayden’s Syndrome, a three stage infectious disease that emerged when Shane was a child that left behind not only personal physical complications for victims of the disease but also initiated broad social, political, and technological movements in response to the ubiquity of the disease. The first stage of illness is characterized by serious flu-like symptoms with a high risk of mortality. A percentage of first-stage survivors progressed to a second stage of disease with symptoms similar to viral meningitis. A portion of second stage patients develop lock-in, a permanent loss of physical mobility in spite completely normal brain function. A much smaller number of second stage patients, known as Integrators, recovered from Hayden’s but with significant alterations in brain structures allowing them, with the aid of technological augmentation, to carry another person’s conscience within their own body. Shane, and other Hayden’s operate day to day operations via robot-style personal transports or Integrators.

Shane’s first case is a murder in which the main suspect arrested at the scene is an integrator. This sort of setup would usually suggest a pretty typical police procedural or buddy cop story. However, Scalzi frames the crime in the context of a complex political and social setting in which Hayden’s and non-Hayden’s alike are responding to recent legislation ending government subsidies for Hayden related projects. While need is only growing, resources are drastically reduced by this law, resulting in protests, hate crimes, and market recoil. While the unique and original technology is often stereotyped to be the most impressive part of science fiction, I was most intrigued with the Hayden related legislation, culture, and political movements ranging from one extreme to the other. Scalzi has fully developed this world and I found myself entirely immersed in it.

I loved the interactions between Shane and his senior partner Vann. She seemed like an intense coworker to have and they shared some incredibly entertaining dialogue. Her backstory was pretty interesting too. I’d like to know more about her previous partner and why she has such an antagonistic relationship with the local Metro police detective Trinh.

I highly recommend checking out this book. If you would like to know more about the context of the world, you should check out the novella available online at Tor’s website. It’s like reading a well-directed documentary on the subject. I am hoping there will be additional books in this world but even if there are not, I will be reading more Scalzi in the future.