Review of Lock In

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

Lock In
337 pp. Tor/Forge. $24.99
Excerpt here.

Announcing Something In The Machine Horror Anthology

We are pleased to announce a new horror anthology from Dark Futures.

TITLE: Something In The Machine: An Anthology Of Technological Horror

THEME: Horror stories dealing with some form of technology or machinery. This can range from ghost trains to possessed cars to haunted space ship computers and anything in between.

We’re not looking for stories about fear of change or advancement, or anything too strongly suggesting the technology or science is evil. We prefer stories where the technology in question is ordinary or commonplace to the characters but something is different or goes wrong.

COMPENSATION: $5 (paid via PayPal), an electronic copy of the anthology, and a code to buy copies of the anthology from Create Space at a deep discount (when available).

LENGTH: Stories under 10k words preferred. Flash fiction is acceptable, though will only be accepted if multiple flash submissions are good enough to make the cut. They would then be used to separate the longer stories.

RIGHTS: For original stories, we take first rights and exclusivity for six months from the publication date. Reprints will be considered, though they we will likely be more harsh in selecting them so the anthology is not filled by them.

DEADLINE: July 31st, 2015

Send all submissions to machine (at) DarkFuturesFiction.net. Include your name, the title of your story, and approximate word count in the subject line.

Writing Challenge: Addiction

We are pleased to announce the newest Dark Futures/Phase 2 writing challenge.

The guest judge for this challenge Markus Der Romero. He chose the theme and described it as so:

The contest’s theme concentrates on addiction in a sci-fi/cyberpunk setting. The story must focus on the addictive relationship between individual and tech. The writer can freely choose whichever kind of obsession will be present on the short story (Virtual Reality, Net Voyeurism, Biomech augmentations, digital drugs, a craze for a new device ect…) but must focus on the relation between man and machine and the struggle to get spaced out or to keep their devices operative. 

Submissions should be 3000 words or less. Send them to submissions (at) DarkFuturesFiction (dot) net and include the word ADDICTION in the subject line (if you don’t, there’s a good chance your entry will be missed). The prize is $10 via PayPal and your story will be published on the Dark Futures website as well as in the next issue of Phase 2. The deadline is June 13th.

The Greenland Diaries Day Six

By Patrick W. Marsh

The following collections of journals were recovered from a caravan outside of Duluth, Minnesota. The exact date of recovery is not known nor is the origin of the speaker. The Bureau for the Restoration of History (BFRH) would like help in identifying the man who kept these records. This unedited record of events is still considered the most accurate history of the apocalypse that occurred on April 15th, 2011.

“It began with a drum. Then the monsters came. I’ve been hiding ever since.”

Day Six

Last night started quiet. There was just the drum and nothing else. I wanted to listen to a little music. It would be worth the battery power to drown out that endless thudding. How is there any dust left on the ceiling? The trickle seems endless. I can’t stop thinking about my family and my girlfriend. Did they survive? Where were they when it started? How would they have gotten away if they’d been in the open? I’m not special, they could be living. I’m going to have to go look for them eventually. I’ll give my phone a few more days.

I noticed the roof creaking heavily right before dawn. They must’ve walked across it right before they vanished. The floor groaned too, my dog whined at the sound. I know they were upstairs. I know it.

In the morning, I checked my house. The door wasn’t open and none of the windows were smashed. I don’t know where they would have gotten in? I didn’t move anything more to the basement. If they had been inside, I wouldn’t want them to notice anything different. Just like my neighbor’s boards. They knew about them.

I decided to walk a little bit further today. I brought my gun and dog with me. The 22 was for hunting and you were only able to keep three shots in for ducks. I took out the stopper so I could have five. If the DNR suddenly appeared to fine me for it, well, it’d just be nice to see them. Halfway down the block I ran into an old man named Gerald. He lived two blocks away. He was frail, withered, and covered in a thin layer of dirt. He carried a long rifle with a red scope. He seemed happy to see me. He said the monsters tried to get him a few nights ago. One smashed through his door when the drum started. He shot it eight times in the doorway, before it collapsed outside. He ran and hid. He said they came and got the body. Then they looked for him. He sobbed a little when he talked. He didn’t even know how they found him. He had a radio too, and said the army was making a strategy to fight back.

The monsters could be killed. Everyone was hiding and waiting to come out.

This isn’t the end yet. I have some hope.

Phase 2 #2, And What To Expect From #3

If you missed it, Phase 2 Magazine Issue 2 was recently released on Amazon. You can find it here. Despite only having been live for a short time, it already has one four-star review. Contributor and staff copies have not been sent out yet but will be soon. Keep an eye on your email, if that applies to you.

The third issue of Phase 2 is scheduled to be released on July 1st. I intend to keep firm on this date, as the annual Minnesota convention called CONvergence begins on July 2nd and it is likely I will be sitting on at least a few panels there. As the theme for CONvergence this year is dystopias, the plan is to make the third issue of Phase 2 heavy on dystopian fiction. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry. Issue #3 will also see the first installment of a cyberpunk series written by Roy C. Booth and at least one other more traditional sci-fi story. We want to make sure there is still something for everyone, even while pursuing a theme. It is likely issue #3 will be the longest yet but it will be just 99¢ as always.

If you haven’t already, go like Phase 2 on Facebook and follow Phase 2 on Twitter. I post things on those social media outlets far more often than we do on this site. You’re also better able to better interact with us there.

One question we’re beginning to ask there, and will continue to for at least a while is this: Is there an author you would like to see in a future issue of Phase 2? We’re open to suggestions on who you think we should reach out to.

That’s all for now. As always, if you have any questions or comments, Facebook or Twitter is the best way to get in touch with us. You can also email editor (at) darkfuturesfiction.net, but the response time is likely to be longer.

David Stegora
Editor-In-Chief

The Greenland Diaries Day Five

By Patrick W. Marsh

The following collections of journals were recovered from a caravan outside of Duluth, Minnesota. The exact date of recovery is not known nor is the origin of the speaker. The Bureau for the Restoration of History (BFRH) would like help in identifying the man who kept these records. This unedited record of events is still considered the most accurate history of the apocalypse that occurred on April 15th, 2011.

“It began with a drum. Then the monsters came. I’ve been hiding ever since.”

Day Five

Last night, I saw them.

They got him, my neighbor across the alley. He was the one who boarded up his house. They knew someone was in there; they knew it. I watched them from my basement window. He had a gun too; I heard it firing through the drum. I only saw them for a second. They were shadowy, long, and not completely there. They were surrounded by something. Not clothing, but a dark cloud. Some of them walked up to his house, while others crawled. A few were even on the roof. None of them looked the same shape or size. They dragged him outside. He shot a few of them with his handgun. I saw the flashes. They just looked stunned and didn’t go down. They had skeletons underneath their clouds. I could see their golden outline. The big ones had claws that stretched out and stabbed him. Others had blades on their arms that smashed him over and over. He screamed for help. They tore him to pieces. It was over fast.

What are they? Are they here simply to kill us?

They knew he was in there because of the boards.

I didn’t sleep last night or this morning. I couldn’t. I moved more stuff to the basement, but left a few things out. If they can notice the boards on the house, what else can they notice? I thought I saw something in the door handle today. It reminded me of that shadow from yesterday. It vanished when I stared at it. There has to be a connection, you know, like in the movies.

There were more plants outside today. There are bright blue flowers growing on the ivy everywhere. I had no idea ivy even bloomed flowers. I don’t want to leave my house for very long. I just need to see other people around. There is nobody though. They’re all too afraid to leave. At the very end of my block, there is a big oak tree with pictures stapled to it. I assume it’s for missing people.

I put a blanket over the bloody stain just behind my neighbor’s house. It was on the concrete. I didn’t even know his name.

I’m the only one who knows he’s gone.

Patrick W. Marsh

Patrick W. Marsh is an award winning writer, blogger, and editor from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His poems and short stories have appeared in Calliope, Dagda Publishing, Parachutes, The Coon Rapids Review, The Quail Bell Quarterly, Under Construction, Calamities Press, Realities, and others. His debut novel Beware the Ills was published in July 2013. His second novel The Greenland Diaries: Days 1 – 100  was published in October 2014. He is currently working on the sequel to The Greenland Diaries: Days 101 – 200 set to be released in Fall 2015, along with the sequel Beware the Ills entitled This Living Cage, which is due to be released in Winter 2016.