Another great influenza has swept the globe, leaving death in its wake. A small percentage of those struck by the disease become locked in, where their bodies are completely paralyzed but their minds continue to function normally. These victims of what becomes called Haden’s Syndrome get help in the form of brain implants that allow them to access personal humanoid robots as well as human surrogates. This near-future science fiction world is the setting of John Scalzi’s Lock In.
Lock In starts as a murder mystery. The strange new era of humans mixing with Haden-driven Threeps (the robots’ polite nickname) is fertile ground for exploring an old story as one of the two FBI investigators assigned to the case is himself a Hadens sufferer who must untangle the tricky case of a murder perhaps committed via a remote proxy. This plot expands into a complicated world where the locked in Hadens victims have become their own subculture cordoned off in a virtual shared reality of their own when not interacting in the physical with their Threeps.
The mystery sometimes takes a back seat to the main character Chris’s interactions with his partner, family, and other Hadens. When he needs to travel, he logs into a Threep in the FBI bureau closest to his destination. His physical body has needs that must be monitored and cared for. His family has to digest his robotic appearance as they deal with him in otherwise normal circumstances like a dinner, even though Chris in his Threep doesn’t eat. Even finding a new living space where Chris can park his Threep is interesting, as renting a closet with a power hookup should be acceptable yet is not desirable as he employs a realtor to help him out. It’s these smaller personal moments that I found most compelling.
I listened to this one on audio. The reader is Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: TNG fame. He quickly slips into the background and I soon forgot who was reading, which is high praise as Wil’s voice is easy on the ears and not distracting.
The attached novella is an oral history of the Haden’s outbreak and the development of the Threeps. The style reminds me of World War Z as it’s told from multiple points of view, but it is much more succinct. This fast paced history is as compelling as the main novel and wasn’t just an exercise in world building and didn’t feel like filler material for a short novel. Its best parts cover the spread of the outbreak as well as the perspectives of the lock ins who are eager for the development of the implant tech that evolves into the Threeps. I didn’t quite buy the anti-Threep sentiments that spreads throughout the restaurants, excluding them from sitting, but it works in Scalzi’s world and is well told.
I had taken a break from Scalzi since The Human Division, but liked Lock In for its change of pace from the author’s Old Man’s War universe. I look forward to the sequel.