Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Twenty-five years ago, a disease that came to be known as Haden’s Syndrome left a large chunk of the world’s population trapped in their heads in bodies that didn’t work. Now, advances that allow Hadens sufferers to inhabit and control mechanical bodies have become so commonplace that it’s not a novelty anymore. The poster child for early Haden’s research, Chris Shane, has grown up and become an FBI agent. Shane, moving about in a personal transport vehicle, or “Threep”, is on the case of a murder. To add to the drama, a new bill has passed defunding all government assistance to Hadens sufferers. With all the protests, walk-outs, and societal issues coming to light, will Chris be able to get to the bottom of this unexplained murder? Maybe it is just the suicide it looks like. Or is it connected to Hadens somehow? 

That's my summary. Here's the ones I pulled from
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four per cent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
New technologies emerge to help those who suffer from the condition—a virtual reality network and a system of “riding” in the bodies of other individuals—which are 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…

As mentioned in the “real” synopsis of the book, the onset of Hadens is fifteen years from now, or in the case of when the book was published, fifteen years from 2014. Set the action of the book 25 years after that, and we’re only in the year 2054. So this is set in the future, but a future we can expect to see. I’ll only be 70 in 2054. It’s kind of weird for me to think of, actually. But the semi-close time frame, only decades from now, makes Lock In seem all the more plausible. It’s presented as a police procedural, which is brilliant. I didn’t even notice that, honestly. I’m not going to say I hate police procedurals, because I don’t. I just don’t have a lot of experience with them, so I took it as a genre I’m familiar with: science fiction. As that, it’s a great novel. I would’ve just called it a science fiction mystery… until I was looking for a proper summary and saw the PP genre attached to it. Oh, that makes sense.

You can find my style commentary of Scalzi in my review of Redshirts here.

I do, though, want to expound on that a little. In that review, I harp on what I call the “Said Problem.” In short, it’s when an author only uses the “said” dialogue tag, or occasionally uses “asked.” In Redshirts, it grated on my mind and, I think, on Wil Wheaton’s patience and voice. Well, I listened to Lock In through, and like Redshirts, it was narrated by Wil Wheaton.

I didn’t notice the Said Problem in Lock In, thank God. I think in one short conversation, I noticed a few “saids”, which reminded me of the pain it was to listen to Redshirts, but then the issue passed. It wasn’t a glaring problem here, and I’m glad for that.

My Thoughts
I loved this book. I don’t really do police procedurals, mostly because I don’t run across many that sound intriguing. I think I may have to look into them a little more, just out of curiosity. My only reservation is that they won’t be as cool as Lock In was. I’ll admit, despite the introduction to Haden’s in the form of a short history lesson in the prologue, I didn’t really get what was going on. I picked it up more and more as the novel progressed, and that was wonderful. By the time the book really got going, I was fully sunk into the future Scalzi created. It was masterfully done, his throwing the reader into the time and then reaffirming it bit by bit in the narrative. I was drawn along with Chris, I was intrigued and concerned about the other characters, the situation, the issues, and the divides in society between the Hadens and non-Hadens. It’s not an overly glaring issue in every day life, or between people, really. It’s an idealistic thing, mostly brought about by the passing of the policy at the onset of the story. But even that is a background issue to the main activity, and that’s Chris’s job. It didn’t make things more pressing, per se, but it did make things more inconvenient for Chris on more than one occasion. The climax and wrap-up of the plot were satisfying and surprisingly quick. I actually didn’t mind that the story ended as fast as it did once the big bad was caught. Okay, that’s a spoiler. They catch the bad guy. Are you really surprised?
As great as the story itself was, the real gem was the novella at the end, an oral history of Haden’s Syndrome. In the audio version, it’s done with multiple voice actors, and I thought it was a great addition to the story, showcasing the real thought Scalzi put into this novel. I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked at its existence, considering the three codas at the end of Redshirts, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was there. In form from the audio, it reminded me of World War Z, just how the history is told through recollections, reports, memoirs, and interviews with different people involved in different stages of the history. This oral history brought forth scientists, developers, victims, sufferers, early test subjects, everything to give real perspective to this fictional disease and the research involved in human development in coping with it. Basically, don’t stop when the story is over. Read this novella (or listen to it). It made me feel like this was really a possible future I was hearing the history of.

Would I Recommend This Book? Highly! Lock In was engaging, enthralling, and it carried me right along every step of the way. Questions I had were addressed, as if Scalzi really thought of everything. Oh, I’m sure there is a hole or two, but I didn’t notice anything, and even if I had, I’d still be happy with this book. It’s one I do think I’ll read/listen to again now and then. What’s interesting is there are actually two versions on audible. There’s the Wil Wheaton narration, and then there’s the version narrated by Amber Benson. If I hadn’t known this going into it, I doubt I would have noticed that Chris’s gender is never revealed. I want to listen to the Amber Benson version sometime, out of curiosity, to see if it changes my perception of the story itself. I’ve heard her version is good. I’m just a Wheaton fan, so I picked his to listen to. I’m rambling a little, so I’m going to close it now. I give Lock In a bedridden 5 of 5 stars.

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