Lock In by John Scalzi

I am reposting my 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99.
Summary: A flu-like virus (Haden’s Virus) leaves millions without the ability to move. With the assistance of robots and human ‘integrators’, Haden’s sufferers can move around and interact and lead somewhat normal lives. But never with their own bodies.

I am a big fan of John Scalzi. And Lock In lived up to the very high level of promotion that Audible gave it.  Audible made the unusual choice of producing two different editions of the book.  One narrated by Wil Wheaton and one narrated by Amber Benson. If you pre-ordered one of the editions, you would get the other for free.

Scalzi is a talented writer. He has moved around in various subsets of the sci-fi genre, from Military Science Fiction to near term Alien encounters, to rewrites of classic sci-fi.  Lock In is more of a police procedural (or FBI to be more accurate) that happens to have a near term sci-fi setting.

The Hadden’s syndrome has forced the FBI set up a department to deal with crimes that might involve the Hadden’s sufferer using the body of either their robot or a human integrators. Chris Shane (a Hadden’s syndrome sufferer) is a new member of this FBI department.

Shane happens to be the poster child for Hadden’s, literally.  Shane’s father is sort of a cross between Michael Jordan and Donald Trump. A former basketball star, turned billionaire real estate mogel, he was an early proponent of government intervention in Hadden’s and trotted out Chris (in a robot body) throughout childhood.

As an adult, Chris is trying to find his own way in the world.

While this is primarily a mystery/thriller, Scalzi uses the book to bring up a number of issues around medical ethics, medical testing, the role of government and business corruption. None of those issues are really settled, but I think the raising of the issues is done well and in context of the story and not as propaganda.

What I thought was an interesting, but a very subtle move, the main character’s gender was never fully revealed. I assumed that Chris Shane was male and never noticed the lack of clarity until reading an interview with Scalzi after I finished the book. In addition, Shane was black, his/her FBI partner was a lesbian (or maybe bisexual, it wasn’t completely clear) and there were several other gay couples in the book. This was a book that seemed to want to make a statement about breaking down walls of discrimination (against Haden’s sufferers as well as LBGT community and more traditional racial discrimition).

The way that Scalzi chose to do that was to not make a big deal about it. Chris Shane was black, his/her Dad was a big time basketball player, but also a very, very good businessman. And other than one incident where race really mattered, the fact he/she was black, while not minimized or swept away, was just part of the story. Similarly with the variety of LBGT issues and characters. I don’t want to make too much about that, because the book is just good writing.

I doubt it will become a series because it wrapped up without a lot of loose ends. But if it does become a series, I am definately pre-ordering the next book.

At the end of the audiobook was an ‘oral history’ about the outbreak of the Haden’s virus. It was released as a separate kindle book earlier, but I didn’t know about it until I started Lock In. It probably would have been better to have a better understanding of the disease prior to reading the book, but reading it after was fine as well.

I do wish there was a way to easily sync between the two audio editions.  Wheaton must be a faster reader than Amber Benson because her version is almost an hour longer than his version. It does make me want to read the last couple of Scalzi’s books that I have not previously read.

Lock In by John Scalzi Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome: Kindle Edition, Free Web Edition

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