Lock In by John Scalzi (SF novel, 2014)

I reviewed another book by Scalzi a few weeks ago. That one was part of his Old Man’s War series of space-going adventure. Today I look at his stand-alone/non-series novel Lock In.

In this near-future thriller, a strange new disease has reshaped our world. For most people, it is only somewhat worse (if a bit more deadly) than the flu. But for an unlucky 1% of victims (meaning several millions) it leaves them in a nightmarish condition popularly known as “Lock In.” Those affected are fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to any stimulus by conventional means.

A quarter-century after the first outbreak, these so-called “Hadens” (a reference to the American First Lady who was among the best known of those suffers) are the focus of whole new industries and technologies developed to assist them–their helpless bodies receive round-the-clock medical care while their minds and spirit benefit from a technology that allows their consciousness to inhabit advanced androids. Also, a far tinier handful of others, while not physically crippled by the disease, have had their brains altered–making them “Integrators.” These individuals can (with supportive technology) allow the “Locked In” to temporarily borrow their bodies.

The special benefits granted Hadens are expensive and funding cutbacks by the government are about to kick in. Protesting these benefit cuts, many employed Hadens are on strike–adding to tensions that may spark a violent backlash. At this critical moment, rookie FBI agent Chris Shane (a Haden himself) is handed his first case–an inexplicable murder involving an Integrator and a mysteriously unidentifiable man. Shane has just been teamed with Agent Vann, an abrasive veteran investigator with secrets of her own and enemies among the local Washington DC police.

Scalzi does a masterful job building and then presenting a believable world that features appropriate technical advances, understandable politics and secret corporate intrigues. The ‘Locked In’ culture itself is interesting, establishing them as a new minority group facing and adapting to multiple challenges. A complex but very readable crime thriller, this novel is well-paced and works on all levels.

This is another book by Scalzi that I recommend highly and without qualification!


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