Review By Ty Black
Sci-fi police procedural thriller Lock In, by John Scalzi, follows two FBI agents working a murder case in a near-future United States where 1% of the population has been “locked in” by a disease which leaves a person which completely cuts off voluntary motion, but leaves the mind intact. Known as “Hadens,” the sufferers walk among the rest of the population by mentally controlling robots. They can even take vacations in a real human body by temporarily mind-melding with an “integrator.”
Scalzi spins an engaging story of crime and corporate intrigue which I found to be a quick, easy read. The action takes a few pages to get going, but once it picks up the story takes flight and traverses locales across the United States and in a special, Haden-only cyberspace dubbed the Agora. Against a backdrop of social unrest caused by the end of government subsidies for lock in sufferers, the action starts with the death of a man who can’t be identified, even in a world saturated with surveillance, and the prime suspect is an integrator. Integrators are subject to something like attorney-client privilege and therefore the only witness to the death and prime suspect for causing it has an excuse not to say anything.
I did have to go back a few times and reread an earlier page in order to keep the characters straight, but it wasn’t any worse than most police procedurals, and the novel’s tension builds nicely enough that the break in my flow didn’t make me want to put the book down. The novel ended with the sort of big reveal that makes me want to go back and reread to find the clues I missed, and while I won’t give anything away, Scalzi plays some carefully-crafted tricks on the reader’s expectations. There were a few points which bothered my hard sci-fi soul, like why the police and this world’s mighty NSA couldn’t just trace the network connection between integrator and Hadon to solve the crime immediately, but that’s all minutiae and I don’t think it will bug most people like the did me.
Perennial best-seller and winner of a Campbell award and multiple Hugos John Scalzi is well known for his left-leaning politics, and he was one of the folks at the center of the recent Hugo Awards controversy. Even though they’re from far-different ends of the political spectrum, Lock In reminded me of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It’s Scalzi’s liberalism and feminism on display here instead of the libertarianism of Heinlein’s novel, but just like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Lock In is skillful science fiction which takes place in a world constructed to showcase the author’s political views. Neither novel beats the reader over the head with the social message, at least not to the point that the politics gets in the way of the story for a reader who’s not approaching the book with a bone to pick.
I give Lock In four stars out of five: once it picks up, it’s a enjoyable, fast-paced story which is easy to get in to. I’d also recommend reading the related Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome on Tor before delving into the novel, as it makes it easier to keep up with: http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/05/unlocked-an-oral-history-of-hadens-syndrome-john-scalzi
337 pp. Tor/Forge. $24.99