Since I attended (or rather, will attend, as of the writing of this review) one of Scalzi’s book tour events on Friday the 24th (aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh) I figured it was probably a good idea to read at least something of his. Yeah, I’m a terrible SFF fan and up until now, I hadn’t read anything of John Scalzi’s. I’ve been having great fun following him on Twitter however (hi John) and I was more than happy to pick up a few of his books. I’d originally intended to pick up OLD MAN’S WAR since that’s the one I hear mentioned most often, but reading the description for LOCK IN was far too intriguing for me to pass up.
Besides, the concept reminds me a tiny bit of some of my own work.
The basics of the book are that there’s been a sickness spreading through the world. It starts looking like a nasty case of the flu, then proceeds to turn into meningitis, and if you survive both of those waves, then you have a chance of getting Haden’s Syndrome, or what they call “lock in,” which basically means that you’re trapped in your body, fully comprehending and totally normal…just one hundred percent unable to access your nervous system. Kinda like sleep paralysis, but probably a billion times worse.
They’ve counteracted this with neural nets and what are colloquially known as “threeps,” which are essentially androids that the Haden (or someone who is locked in) can transfer their mind into. (They do retain a level of connection to their physical body, however; our main character talks about feeling pain from a molar extraction even when he’s in his threep. I never quite understood the exact mechanics, and given the plot, I don’t really think I’m meant to. That’s okay.) This allows Hadens to go about their “normal” life and still interact with people. But as with all things, there are stressors around this. What we follow in the book is the case of murders all connected back to a person known as an “Integrator,” or someone who can allow the locked in to control their body for a time. Rookie FBI agent Chris Shane and his veteran partner Leslie Vann tackle the task, but it gets bigger than they expected right fast.
The book is described as “a novel of the near future” on the cover, and it’s really a “seriously, no joke” kind of feeling. I can absolutely see this happening in today’s world. Much of the action takes place in and around Washington DC, which now that I live closer to that neck of the woods, makes all the place names very familiar. Shane is a brilliant character, just serious enough that you take his job as an agent without hesitation (and there are character reasons that you might doubt, as others imply in-book) but comedic enough to let you relate to him easily, and in turn it lets Scalzi’s personal brand of humor shine through just a bit. He drops a lot of information very quickly, and while it’s not always explained outright when it happens, he follows up soon after with the basics. There are a few moments of Obvious Exposition (“as you know…” moments) but I don’t fault anyone for those. It happens.
What really caught my attention is that there are these dumps, and there’s just a trace of instant immersion (it took me way too long to figure out what a threep was and how a Haden was using it) but he manages to make it all work, without ever causing me (and we all know how much I hate instant immersion–frustration or too much confusion. Major props for that. Characters are introduced and then all of them are given a purpose, which isn’t always the case. There are a few secrets left to be discovered (the twins! I want to know about the twins!) and since I see that there’s a follow-up book in the planning for next year, I’m excited to see what’s in store. There’s a lot of potential in this world, a lot of interesting ways to play with the characters, and with such a brilliantly talented author as Scalzi at the wheel, it’s sure to be an adventure you won’t soon forget.
I had waffled a little on whether or not to give this a 4-star rating or a 5-star, so maybe we call this 4.5, but I’m more than happy to round up for the book, for sheer virtue of the strength of character and complexity of plot.
Now I’m even more excited to read the book I got on Friday. Maybe this one won’t sit on my TBR for ages like every other book I own.
Rating: ***** (Highly Recommended)