Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review: Lock-In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi
Published: Tor, 2014
Series: Book 1 of the Lock In Series
Awards Nominated: Campbell Award & Locus SF Awards

The Book:

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent 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. One percent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, 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 restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, "The Agora," in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not.

The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can "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 read this one while traveling for job-hunting, and it was the perfect choice for that slice of my life--interesting, entertaining, and not emotionally distressing.  I have a signed copy of Head On, the sequel to Lock In, and I’m planning to read it sometime soon.

My Review: 3.5/5

The central science fiction element of the story is the new virus that causes the “locked in” crisis, and it was interesting to see how society might adapt to handle this kind of a problem. On the accommodations side, the Agora makes sense and it was cute that the robotic proxies were named after C-3PO. The ability to control another human, which is an issue at the heart of this murder mystery, clearly carries the potential for abuse. I enjoyed seeing how the illness and related accommodations had become mundane, everyday reality, and how the new technology was used to make daily tasks simpler.  At the point of the story, being locked in is no longer a nightmare, but just ordinary reality for a group of people with distinct social and political needs.

The new technology also adds complications to figuring out the murder mystery.  It’s clear whose bodies were at the scene of the crime, but who was inhabiting them at the time and for what purpose?  I didn’t figure out the answer in advance, so it was fun to see how everything fit together. This is primarily a procedural case story, though, so it is also a rather light book.  The mystery was more engaging than the characters (though I liked them just fine), and the world-building was important inasmuch as it was important to the case. Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of story you want, though, and I am looking forward to reading about Agent Chris and Leslie’s next case.

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