I was planning on saving Lock In for another time, but after listening to The Dispatcher, I needed to listen to Lock In. I listened to the Wil Wheaton narration. Listening to Wheaton’s narration made me think of Armada, which I had just listened to him narrate. Very briefly, the title of this review was “That’s how you do nostalgia, Cline!” I changed it because that would have been unfair to John Scalzi, Ernst Cline and their respective books. Just so you know, though, Scalzi throws in a little nostalgia, which adds depth to his story, rather than being the story.
This is my second Scalzi, and so far my experience with Scalzi is that he takes a familiar mystery formula, sets it in the near future, and then changes one rule to see what happens. In the case of Lock In, there has been a pandemic which has left some people unable to use their bodies or communicate. The pandemic is called Hayden’s syndrome, and some victims suffer a secondary set of symptoms which leave them trapped in their bodies. These people are called Haydens. Haydens have a couple of ways of interacting with the world. One is to use a robot like device called a Threep, because it looks like C3PO. The other is to use another human called an Integrator. Haydens have neural implants which allow them to move their consciousness from their own body to another. Scalzi introduces a population who is human, but often appear to be robots, and creates a problem to see how that wrinkle plays out in society.
Our protagonist, Chris Shane, is a Hayden and is starting his first week at the FBI. On his first day, he and his partner, Leslie Vann are called in to investigate the apparent murder by an Integrator. The next day an Integrator and a Hayden appear to commit an act of terrorism. There is some political unrest happening around Haydens, and a threat of a “robot uprising.” Shane and Vann develop a nice relationship and report. I don’t want to get into the plot, because that would ruin the experience. I will say, I would not be adverse to a Shane/Vann series of procedurals.
As much as I enjoyed the story, it falls short of being a great book. For all that the premise is complicated, the story itself doesn’t have a lot of complexity. There are interesting moral and ethical questions hinted at, but never explored. The bad guys are a little pocket of bad guys without any sort of conspiracy. It doesn’t always have to be a “this goes all the way to the top!” kind of conspiracy, but I expected to find a more complex mystery than I got. Again, I enjoyed Lock In very much. But it could have been more.
This narration comes with the bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Hayden’s Syndrome. This “oral history” was narrated by several different people. It covers the progress of Hayden’s syndrome from the initial outbreak through the development of the technology that allowed Haydens to be a part of the world, and on to the inevitable discrimination and legal adjustments. It is reminiscent of World War Z, but very interesting nonetheless. Scalzi covers a lot of territory and years in a very short period of time. I would have been ok with a longer novella. I thought there was a lot to explore in the epidemiology of Hayden’s Syndrome, and again in the way that the Haydens were emerging as their own separate culture. I think another area where Lock In could have explore more was the way that Chris Shane doesn’t quite fit in to Hayden culture. There was a lot of potential for conflict between Shane and other Haydens. Instead, everyone who needed to be a good guy was a good guy and helped Shane and Vance. The only exception was Officer Trin, but she became an antagonist who wasn’t an obstacle. A truly great book gives it’s protagonists real obstacles.
As interesting as it was, it doesn’t really stand alone as a work. There’s not really a character to connect to, and because I had read Lock In, I knew how things would shake out. If you have an opportunity to listen to Unlocked along with Lock In, you should take it.