– By Jacob Foxx –
Author John Scalzi stands out by combining unique and interesting plots with an accessible writing style. When you read Scalzi you are in for a fun reading experience perfect for summer time relaxing by the pool. It is a departure from other recent novels that are long and needlessly complicated. Lock In is his most recent novel and an excellent example of his style. Although not his best work, it will not disappoint.
Lock In takes place in the near future where a bizarre disease puts millions around the world in a coma-like state. The condition, called “locked in,” is unique in that the sufferers are fully conscious, only they are completely paralyzed. The world develops ways for the locked in to have a life through neural net technology and robots called threeps. Sufferers of the condition can experience a virtual reality called the Agora or can choose to transfer their consciousness into a threep, allowing them to walk around in the real world. There are also integrators, those who suffered from the disease but were able to recover and are now able to connect with those locked in, allowing them to share their real body.
The story centers around the murder by an integrator. The question becomes who is responsible, the integrator or the person using them? FBI agent Chris Shane, a sufferer of the disease, uses a threep to do his job. He partners with a former integrator, Vann, to investigate the murder. The trail leads to a sinister corporate conspiracy related to the future of the locked in.
The best way to describe Lock In is as an easy going approach to technothriller. The characters speak plainly and with clarity and the technical explanations are easy to understand. They are all likable, with a kind of wit that makes them relatable even if a bit unrealistic. The murder mystery combined with futuristic technologies reminded me a little of Michael Crichton. The key to solving the murder involves uncovering the secrets of neural interface technology that allows people to share bodies with integrators. The sharing raises questions of personal autonomy, consciousness, and criminal responsibility. If an integrator commits a crime, how do you determine if the integrator had the intent or the person that uploaded themselves into the body. It turns the elements of homicide on its head.
What separates Scalzi from Crichton is also what prevents Lock In from being a truly special book. While the characters are likable they are not very authentic. All of them speak with dry sarcasm and wit similar to a teenager or college student. The problem is the characters include a US Senator, lawyers, corporate executives, and other individuals that absolutely would not speak like a kid. Younger readers won’t mind but older readers will find it unrealistic.
Without thoughtful and serious characters the book is unable to closely examine the fascinating themes that arise. Most are glossed over or presented as already settled. The detached sarcasm also makes it difficult to get a feel for the impact of world events on the main characters. It feels like they were all just recently thrown into this near future world rather than actually growing up and being shaped by it.
Lock In is the first in a series, which means there is opportunity to delve deeper in this near future world. However, it is difficult to imagine Scalzi venturing so far from his easy going style to really get into the more profound themes. He is Crichton-lite, making his novels perfect for young adult or non-science readers who just can’t get through the clunky tech-heavy prose of a Crichton novel.