Lock In by John Scalzi

21418013Lock In was my first read for the 2016 Sci Fi Experience over at Stainless Steel Droppings  and my first John Scalzi book too.  I really enjoyed this.  I’m always a bit worried when I pick up sci fi in case the content goes over my head but not only is this story very easy to get along with but it also combines a murder mystery, a bit of wheeling and dealing and a look at a whole other way of life full of challenges for those whose lives have been changed so dramatically.

This is a book set in the future.  A future where a strange flu like virus has swept through the world leaving a lot of it’s victims prisoners within their own bodies.  Their brains are still functional and absolutely alive but they are unable to use their bodies in any way.  The disease has become known as Haden’s disease, named for one of it’s more famous victims.  This little virus doesn’t discriminate, it knows no bounds and is equally pleased to attack anyone regardless of age, status, wealth, colour, etc and whilst it doesn’t have such a dramatic effect on everyone it does leave about 1% of the population locked into their own minds.

I’m not going to give a huge explanation because there are already a lot of reviews out there that probably make a much better job of it than I could do.  Basically the world has adapted to meet the needs of the Haden victims who as a result of leaps in technology are now able to use what is effectively a robot body.  So, whilst their actual body still remains non functional they are able to use their minds to operate these robots, known (affectionately) as ‘threeps’  or (not so affectionally) as ‘clanks’ and lead a normal life.  On top of this there are those people who suffered the virus but managed to escape lock in.  These people are now known as Integrators as they’re able to allow a Haden ‘client’ to use their brain and body for a period of time. 

At the start of the story Chris Shane is starting a new job with the FBI.  To say his day gets off to an immediate start with no hand holding is something of an understatement.  A murder has taken place and it seems to be Haden related.  However, this murder is only the tip of the iceberg and things are about to get a whole lot more complicated!

What did I like about this.  I thought the plot was really intriguing.  The story hits the ground running from page 1 with no softly softly approach whatsoever.  I really liked this approach.  Rather than describing the world we are introduced to it through conversation and action.  We pick up through conversation bits of history about Chris and eventually his new partner Leslie Vann.  I found the concept really fascinating and the look into the lives that some of the Hadens live made for compelling reading not to mention being very thought provoking indeed.  We also have this whole underbelly of discrimination, little things that seem harmless and yet when really looked at demonstrate the deep seated discrimination that exists, for example, Hadens don’t get to sit down in bars very often, or a lot of them live in tiny little spaces that are about the size of a broom cupboard.  Now, looked at coldly there is a simple logic to both of these examples and yet they don’t make it easy for Hadens sufferers to integrate.  Just little things, but a whole pile of little ‘things’ eventually makes a whole pile of big ‘things’.

The world is very similar to ours but just more technologically advanced.  Chris, for example, comes from a well known and privileged background.  The ‘threep’ he uses is a top of the line model with all sorts of extras.  Definitely a bonus when working in his line of work.  He can record conversations, instantly access all sorts of readily available data, take shots of crime scenes and, let’s face it, bullets bounce off him more than they would off those without a robot body, he’s not totally invulnerable though and the robot bodies used by Hadens have not been developed for extra strength although this does appear to be a regular misconception of a large chunk of the population.

The characters.  I liked Chris.  I thought he had a lot to put up with but he handles himself well.  His partner Leslie comes across as a little bit more jaded and she certainly does have something of a past that she tries to eradicate from her memory by bar hopping each night.  There is of course a much larger supporting cast but Chris and Leslie are the main focus.

In terms of criticisms, nothing major.  Whilst for the majority of the book the author is very subtle at weaving things seamlessly into the story it did feel on a couple of occasions that some of the conversations were used for info dumping of lengthy explanations or delivery of technical information.  I do understand why but on those occasions it did make the dialogue feel a little unnatural.  Like I said, it didn’t spoil it for me.

I found this a really interesting read, fast paced and full of issues that make you think about the book long after you’ve finished reading.  Sci fi murder mystery/thriller.

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20 Responses to “Lock In by John Scalzi”

  1. brideofthebookgod

    I really liked this an understand there might be a sequel. There’s also an ebook novella called Unlocked which gives an oral history of the condition Chris suffers from and adds some additional depth. I thought he was a man too, but apparently Scalzi was careful to be gender non-specific (which I confess I missed entirely) and the audio book allows you to choose a male or female narrator. Very cool!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Do you know – I never even realised that but now you mention it – how very clever, I was convinced Chris was male but now I think on there’s no reason why I thought that. I should have realised – I think I may have read a review ages ago that said something along those lines but I’ve had this waiting for so long that it’s obviously completely gone from my mind. I’m so impressed!! Thanks for letting me know.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Tammy

    Totally agree, I really enjoyed this book! This was also my first Scalzi book too, and now I want to go back and read his Old Man’s War series. I also love his blog, are you following him? He talks about his cats all the time:-)

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, I do follow his blog – it’s great! Nice to know there’s a second book coming along as well. I’ll definitely pick that up. I might go back and check out the Old Man’s War series – you and Mogsy both liked it so I’m sure to as well 😀

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I loved this book! I just found out the other day there is a follow up too 🙂 And yes, Scalzi’s sci-fi is always very easy to get into which is why I read a lot of his stuff when I was first getting into the genre. I devoured his Old Man’s War series and also grabbed Fuzzy Nation…all amazingly fun books!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I might go and check out the Old Man’s War series – you and Tammy both recommend so it should be right up my street.
      Lynn 😀

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Scalzi’s novels are often deceptively light, because they touch on many sensitive topics in what seems a offhand manner: it’s one of the details I love in his books, that he makes me *think* without being obvious. That stated, I also fell for the “gender trap” and thought that Chris was male (IMHO it made sense since he is the rookie paired with a female veteran on the force) and found – with hindsight – that the “game” was played quite well. Yes, he does sometimes indulge in too-drawn-out explanations, but it’s a little sin we can forgive him, considering the results…

    Grab anything by this author (I recommend the Old Man’s War series) and you will never be disappointed. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yep – I’ll be definitely getting on the Old Man’s Series as everybody is raving about it. I totally fell for the gender trap – I don’t know whether I should be ashamed or not and now I look back I really don’t know why I automatically assumed Chris was male.
      I totally forgive him for those few little info dumps – they did feel very much like a ploy when I was reading it but it was an easy way to give certain bits of background.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Danya @ Fine Print

    So glad you enjoyed this! It was my first (and only, so far) Scalzi book too, and I was pleased to find it so similar to UF which I obviously adore. Like other commenters, I noticed that Scalzi was very careful to use gender-neutral language and I loved that. Adds a whole new dimension to Chris’s life and romance! I pictured Chris as a man because I listened to the Wil Wheaton version of the audiobook, but I loved the idea of having both a female and male audio narrator. So clever!

    The discussion of ableism was also really interesting. Overall I was surprised by how thoughtful and thought-provoking this one was! Scalzi made a good first impression on me. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I never picked up on the gender neutral language and totally fell for Chris being male – I really don’t know why now I think about it does add an extra dimension. He has a very subtle way of raising things as you read along – it doesn’t feel like he’s making a point or banging on about something, it feels like you’ve just stumbled upon the idea yourself! Very clever really. I will read more – everybody seems to be raving about Old Man’s War so I’m going to take a look at that one.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Sharry

    Never read Scalzi but he’s def on my list of authors to explore. I’ve seen Lock In around but I guess I judged the book by its cover because I didn’t feel compelled to read it. But your description is making the book sound very interesting. Especially those bits about the disease and the discrimination of people who have it. Great start to the sci-fi experience! I haven’t yet gotten started myself — better get my butt into gear 😛

    • @lynnsbooks

      I also tend to judge books by their covers and this usually leads to me running a mile where sci fi is concerned. They’re usually pictures of satellites in space which really does make me want to head for cover! You’ve got loads of time with this one though as it runs till the end of January and there’s also the Vintage Sci fi which starts in January – so if you read a vintage book it counts for both events – bahdahbing! Now I just need to choose that special vintage book – was thinking of Starship Troopers. I really enjoyed this Scalzi – its a futuristic mystery/thriller, it has some really quite neat ideas and I love the way the author kind of gently prods you into things – almost like you thought it up all by yourself! I will definitely read more of his work having read this.
      Lynn 😀

  7. imyril

    This is on my To Read list – I’ve read (and enjoyed) Scalzi’s Old Man’s War books and I’m looking forward to Lock In. Not sure if I’ll manage to squeeze it in under the wire this year or if it will slip to next year tho!

    • @lynnsbooks

      In fairness I bought this for last year’s sci fi experience – plus another couple which I didn’t get round to! I need to read Old Man’s War as everyone has read it apparently (and loved it).
      Lynn 😀

      • imyril

        I’m glad it’s not just me playing catch up 😉 Tortoise and the hare – we’ll get there eventually!

      • @lynnsbooks

        Eventually. We will catch up! Although, we may need to either – freeze all the authors so there’s a writing hiatus (and just unfreeze them when we’re ready for the next instalment), invent a time machine so we can jump backwards and forwards, become immortal (cos lots of reading time), or come up with an even better plan – over to you with that one. Let me know what you think up.
        Lynn 😀

  8. Two Dudes in an Attic

    I’ll chime to agree with others – Scalzi is a great My First Sony SF author. Us grognards can enjoy him too of course, but he’s the sort of writer I recommend to someone who is open to SF, but hesitant to jump in. (Not necessarily who I’d give to someone who thinks SF is for nerds and wants to read fine lit – that’s a different discussion.)
    Old Man’s War and Red Shirts are both good. I haven’t read Lock In yet.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’m definitely going to pick up a copy of Old Man’s war – everyone seems to love it.
      Lynn 😀

  9. Out of the comfort zone… | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] Lock In by John Scalzi.  A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi. Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge. A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated. But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected. […]

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