Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”…including the President’s wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse….
Disclaimer : I received a copy from Audible in return for a review.
This was my first Scalzi book. I had heard a lot of praise for him, and so went in with high expectations. Lock In certainly delivered.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two major components to any speculative fiction book : the actual story and characters, and the backdrop and setting. The former is a thrilling mystery, that starts out as a cut and dried murder case, but soon spins out into something really mystifying and deliciously puzzling. The story is told by Chris Shane via first person narration, who is a rookie FBI agent on his first day at the job. Together, he and his partner will uncover a conspiracy that is at once immensely clever and creepy as hell.
The other aspect – the setting – was equally great. It’s near future, which means it lets the author have it look almost like the world we know, and then introduce new elements. Most of that comes in the form of Hadens – the people locked into their own bodies by Haden Syndrome, and the socio-political situation surrounding them. This is done quite naturally, since the protagonist is such an individual himself, and his partner is an Integrator, ie, she has the ability to let locked in people “take control” of her body. The premise raises a lot of interesting questions about how such people would integrate into “normal” society. Some of the answers Scalzi comes up with I agreed with more than others, but they were all though provoking. All in all, quite a fascinating setting. As a programmer, I loved the hacking bits. Not 100% accurate throughout, but way better than “furiously typing at keyboard” stuff you generally see.
The writing itself is simple and functional, with a little dry humor that made me chuckle at times. The characters are well sketched out, and I really got to like the protagonist. Of course, with a first person narration, that is usually the case (unless I grow to hate them). The climax was really enjoyable after all I’d seen happen and reveal throughout the story.
The book did seem to have a bit too many coincidences though. I’d rather not give out specific examples, to avoid spoilers, but it did feel at times that Shane was getting a bit too lucky. Also, I think it missed an opportunity to be awesome. I mean, it’s fun, but the setting has scope for so much more! Or maybe I’m too used to multi-book epics. But apart from that, it was a solid book, with a plot that kept the pace and interest up throughout, and worldbuilding that is interesting and detailed without too many infodumps.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton. And I’m a bit conflicted about that. One the one hand, he has a really great voice that is very easy on the ears, and he brings Shane’s character to life quite well. On the other, his voice is also too same-y, all the characters sound the same – to the point that in dialogue scenes it got a little tricky to determine who was saying what. And the emotions did feel a bit flat. But maybe that’s just me. I’ve just come to expect narrators to do voices ever since I heard Jim Dale make up dozens of voices for his Harry Potter rendition. The audiobook does come with a free novella set in the same world though, but I haven’t had time to listen to it yet.
So yeah, good narration, but voices need more distinction and emotion. Here’s a sample: