Lock In by John Scalzi


Science FictionMysteryLock In by John ScalziIn the first week on the job, FBI agent Chris Shane gets involved in a case that has everything – money, power, politics, protests, personal control, vendettas, and personal substitutes. Shane is a third stage Haden’s syndrome patient – the body is locked in place in a medical cradle while the conscious inhabits a robot body.  Not only can Haden’s people inhabit machines, but can work through another person called an Integrator. An Integrator had Haden’s severely enough to reroute neural pathways but recovered instead of being permanently paralyzed. The altered neural functions allow them to interface with a paralyzed Haden’s patient. Medical care and living needs  for the Haden’s syndrome population had been subsidized by the government since the epidemic first swept the country many years earlier. But now those subsidies are ending and the market it being privatized.

Shane and new partner Agent Vann get called to a crime scene where an Integrator is sitting by a body with a slit neck. The Integrator is covered in blood. But he states he can’t remember if he killed the other man or not. When the agents question him in jail, his very high power lawyer gets him out due to lack of evidence. They wonder how an Integrator can afford that lawyer – a man who represents one of the largest Haden’s medical suppliers in the world.

That night Shane’s wealthy parents had been dining with the CEO of a Haden’s research lab when it was bombed. Shane left the dinner the same time as the CEO. Shane and Vann get called into that case, although it is classified as terrorism. A Haden’s revolutionary claims responsibility, trying to stop the enactment of the new law eliminating the government subsidies. Before the week is over Shane gets around the country interrogating people, gets a new apartment, and nearly killed. Vann is also a killer’s target and she has a flesh body – more easily damaged than Shane’s robot body.

In 1953 Isaac Asimov decided to show that science fiction and a detective mystery can work well together. He published Caves of Steel, proving his point. John Scalzi has also proven Asimov right in Lock In. I usually think of Scalzi as a more humorous science fiction writer despite his Old Man’s War series. There is humor in Lock In. But it’s the general humor that we all indulge within ourselves on a daily basis. Instead, Lock In is a tightly woven mystery with a believable science fiction setting.

Shane is a rich kid, the poster child for Haden’s when young. Now Shane wants to work rather than enjoying Daddy’s money. The first week at the FBI gives Shane more real world experience than anyone could have anticipated. Scalzi plays around with that theme to strengthen the book. There is a great, funny scene when Shane is in the Los Angeles police station. They provide a robot whose legs don’t work. So they provide a wheelchair for Shane to get around in the robot body. Instead, Shane uses family money and rents a robot.

Scalzi hits the right notes in the amazing Lock In. Haden’s syndrome is plausible and possible in our near future. Scalzi doesn’t explain much of it at once in Lock In, but gives the reader the issues slowly. (Haden’s syndrome is also explained in the prequel Unlocked. The people in first world countries have adapted well to the problems.) Money and power lead to a good suspense. Some of the characters could have been fleshed out more, yet all are believable. Take a huge medical issue and mix it together with greed and privatization for an excellent novel.

Do you like good science fiction? Do you like a good mystery? If either of those questions is yes, don’t miss Lock In.

Notice: Non-graphic violence, Strong language, Suggestive dialogue

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