I saw this book when I was browsing through the “New Releases” shelves of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section of Barnes & Noble, and, being a big fan of cyberpunk, it seemed like the sort of book I’d like. I also hadn’t read any John Scalzi books before this (shameful, I know), and while Old Man’s War and some other books he’s written are on my list, Lock In looked more up my alley so it seemed a good place to start.
The story takes place in the near future after the rise of a disease known as Haden’s. The meningitis like sickness will, in a small percentage of victims, alter their brains and cause a condition known as “lock in”. This puts the victim in an immobile state, though he or she is still fully aware of their surroundings. An even smaller percentage of victims can go on to become what are known as “integrators”. While the virus has altered an integrator’s brain pathways, it does not leave him or her locked in. Instead it provides the neural capacity for a Haden to integrate with that person and borrow their body.
Outside of using integrators, Hadens have fostered a whole new industry based around them. The government has created a virtual reality world known as the Agora where Hadens can go to socialize. Additionally, government funding went to developing neural software that allowed both integration between Hadens and integrators but also for Hadens to be able to use robotic bodies known as “threeps”. At the start of the story, the government is about to pull the plug on a lot of its Haden’s funding, which is a point a point of tension throughout.
However, I’d have to say that one of the issues I had with this story was a lack of tension. The primary conflict of the story involves a murder mystery and a cover up conspiracy. The protagonist and narrator, Chris Shane, is a fledgling FBI agent, but he is more famous for being a poster child for Hadens. His father was a famous basketball player (now political player), and Shane contracted Hadens very young, so his early life was heavily documented and publicized to raise awareness about the disease.
Unfortunately, I felt that Shane’s wealth drew a lot of the conflict out of the story. Many situations where government or bureau under-funding might have stood in his way, he manages to quickly avoid the obstacle by throwing money at it. As an example, he goes through several threeps throughout the story, as confrontations with different antagonists leave them damaged. This ends up not being a big deal, as he has the money to continuously replace them, but this could have been an added point of conflict.
Outside of Shane’s wealth, I felt his ability to get along with people also led to a decrease in conflicts. He has a partner, agent Vann, who is something of a maverick, but he gets along with her well. He also ends up moving in with a new set of roommates, all of who are Hadens, and he gets along fine with them as well. He, in fact, ends up working with a couple of them to help solve the case, and they are able to contribute a fair bit of knowledge and expertise to the venture.
Essentially the story boils down to the mystery of the murder and how Shane and Vann are able to capture the killer. I will say that this, combined with the interesting intricacies of the setting, are enough to make this book a very fun and enjoyable read. However, I think it could have been better if there were other subplots that provided more tension or conflict.
I know that Scalzi will soon be releasing a novella called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome but outside of that, I’m not sure if there is any plan to turn Lock In into the start of a series. I think there is still a lot to explore in terms of the world and the characters. As I said, we don’t see any turmoil between Shane and his partner or roommates, which could be something that develops later on. Other parts of the world, or even the virtual world of the Agora, could be more explored as well. On the other hand, I did like where the story itself ended, and I could see this being a standalone novel.
I definitely think that this story is worth a read. The plot is engaging, as are the characters and setting, and it reads very quickly, so even if it doesn’t have the depth I might have liked, it is certainly not something you slog through. I gave the book three stars on Goodreads. I’d say it’s a fun read, but I’ve also read better.