Because all of life is stories.
I’ve come to rely on John Scalzi for fun science fiction. Some writers like Larry Niven or Gregory Benford might be regarded as more ‘literary’ writers but Scalzi for my money tells a better and more entertaining story, while still being intriguing along the way. Lock In is a departure from the space opera and military sci-fi I’ve come to associate him with. That said, it should be up for Hugo nominations this year.
Lock In is detective story/murder mystery wrapped in delicious ideas. In the near future world Scalzi has created a disease called Haden’s Syndrome has altered the way we see life on Earth. In virtually all of the patients it causes nothing worse than severe flu symptoms. In one percent of those cases it shows by way of symptoms closer to severe meningitis. And then it gets interesting. In one percent of that one percent, it causes the complete shutdown of the voluntary nervous system, resulting in patients becoming “Locked In” to their own bodies. In the United States alone this creates a situation in which millions of people, who are otherwise perfectly healthy, find themselves paralyzed completely, unable to obtain consciousness.
In light of the sheer number of cases, the world creates two solutions: The Agora, and Threeps. The Agora is a virtual environment where the Hadens can be in control of themselves, move, interact, generally live a normal life amongst one another. For those who prefer to still interact physically with the real world, threeps are mobile personal robots a Haden can control with their consciousness. These methods allow Hadens to maintain a somewhat natural life despite their condition. A slightly more rare option for the Hadens is to ride along inside the consciousness of another person. With explicit consent and strict rules a Haden can take over a Haden who did not suffer Lock In. It allows them to do things like feel the wind on their face, make love, eat a cheeseburger, and actually be able to taste and feel what it is they are doing.
It is in this world that we are introduced to Chris, a locked in Haden who is also a detective for DC Police. Charged with solving a murder investigation rife with political and economic repercussions for Hadens everywhere, Chris and his new partner must get to the bottom of not only a singularly unique murder, but a conspiracy that threatens the lives and well-beings of Hadens everywhere.
While this is less sci-fi than some people may be looking for (It’s both near future and completely lacking in space travel and aliens, which is perfectly fine) it also works as an entertaining springboard for people looking to get in to the genre, as the bones of the story are more mystery or police procedural than they are “traditional science fiction.” I found it struck a good balance between murder mystery and really interesting future technology to bring in both crowds, though some of the hard core readers on either end of the spectrum may disagree.
Another interesting facet is that the book is told entirely in first person, and the gender of the protagonist is never identified, which is why the audiobook can be purchased with a male or female narrator. Admittedly, naming the protagonist Christ led me to think male and not question that until somebody pointed out the lack of gender pronouns. Apparently most men think Chris is male, while women are close to a 50/50 split when polled. It’s a laudable bit of storytelling, but I didn’t notice. Nor is the character’s gender all that important to the story in my opinion. Basically, pick what you like and run with it. It’s designed that way.
Come for the robot ninja assassins and wetware brain hacking and a lot of cool sort-of-almost-near-future tech. Come for the police procedural and the murder mystery. Stay for the thoughtful glance into a future closer to us than the final frontier or a galaxy far far away. Learn to love John Scalzi and his myriad strange band names and his fanatical love of churros. Lock In is a great jumping in point to science fiction for the non-genre reader, and a surefire classic to add to every library for the seasoned fan.