Review: Lock In

Lock In ScalziBy John Scalzi

Gollancz (UK); Tor (US) out now

After a devastating wave of illness sweeps the world, one percent of the population are left “locked in” by paralysis of their voluntary nervous systems – but when one of the main sufferers is the First Lady of the United States, solutions can be found. But these might have other applications – for good and ill…

John Scalzi’s new novel is a pedal to the metal thriller which incorporates challenging ideas about the funding of the medical system in the United States, the way in which those who suffer from a physical disability are treated – both by those who don’t share their condition, and by their peers – and fundamental questions about identity.

The story is narrated by one of the high profile Haden’s Syndrome cases (interestingly as a result of reading this, I instinctively shied away from describing this fictional character as a “sufferer”) who has been the poster boy for those with the condition since being affected as a two year old. Through him we learn about the “threeps”, the machines which the locked-in Hadens can power through neural networks to allow them to interact with the world, as well as Integrators, those who have suffered Haden’s but not been locked-in, who now can allow their bodies to be taken over by those who have been worse afflicted.

The ramifications of such a change in society are dealt with throughout the book, particularly as it’s set at a time when funding for research and support of Haden’s is about to be savagely cut back. Against a background of riots and demonstrations, Chris and his partner investigate suspicious deaths, and a bombing at a drugs research lab. Their hunt leads them to the Navajo nation (allowing Scalzi to draw some interesting parallels with the treatment of the native Americans) and, perhaps inevitably, to the upper echelons of power – after all, it starts at the Watergate building!

Scalzi presents a rounded view of the life those with Haden’s lead – from the treatment of their physical bodies, to their own mental space (the Agora, effectively their own version of the World Wide Web) and the way that they deal with the human need for company. There’s a leavening of humour throughout, but it’s fundamentally a serious novel, references to the Batcave notwithstanding, with a pace that doesn’t flag even during the necessary portions of exposition.

If you’re a fan of Asimov’s Robot stories, or of Robert J. Sawyer’s blend of modern science extrapolated to a logical conclusion (particularly as seen in his recent Triggers), then Lock In will grab you – and you may well find, as I did, that you will want to read it in one sitting. Scalzi’s ability to put the reader inside the mind of another character has never been quite so well demonstrated. Recommended.

Verdict: Brilliant, punchy, intelligent and thought-provoking, let’s hope Scalzi returns to this brave new world soon. 9/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order Lock In from Amazon.co.uk

And click here to read the novella Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, John Scalzi’s prequel to Lock In.

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