I was doing some significant (for me) commuting the last few months and so I made some good use of my Audible account and picked up some books to listen to. Lock In is only my second book by John Scalzi, but it won’t be my last.
Lock In is about social issues and the breaking down of barriers for those with accessibility issues in a sci-fi setting. A virus, a strain of the bird-flu, strikes the earth and when the wife of the devoted President of the United States is struck with the syndrome that will be named for her (Haden’s Syndrome), the President devotes his energy and resources for finding help for sufferers of the syndrome.
Lock-In is when a person becomes trapped in their own bodies. Their minds are as able and agile as ever, but there is absolutely no motor control over their bodies. What is ultimately developed is a robot body and the means for mental transfer. Someone with Haden’s Syndrome can have a physical body that is cared for in a medical ‘tomb’ while the person inhabits a durable body, allowing them to walk and talk and do pretty much whatever they would in their flesh body. These ‘shells’ are referred to as ‘threeps’ due to their similarities with C-3PO, a robot from the film Star Wars. This process of mental transference can also be done with humans (an ‘integrator’), so that a living, breathing person can host the mental and psychological ‘being’ of a ‘Haden’ so that the person with Haden’s can experience things like taste or (most often) sex.
But the Haden’s (the sufferer inhabiting a robot body) come to experience discrimination and they begin to bond, having a common experience … the stereotyping and discrimination of their being based on their illness and subsequent robot-like appearance. So it’s big new when the FBI hires Chris Shane, a rookie and a possibly the second-most famous Haden (after the First Lady) in recent history. Shane is partnered with a veteran, Leslie Vann, and the two are immediately on a case of what appears to be a hate crime against Haden’s. A Threep in a carbon-fiber shell is difficult to kill, but the physical human form is still susceptible to injury and Shane has to uncover a series of mysteries and protect her outside life.
Scalzi’s writing is quick and easy and also entertaining. He blends genres here, with the mystery story and the medical sci-fi, and he does it extremely well. I recently also listened to Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series and there are some interesting similarities, mostly dealing with the advanced medicine and diseases. Grant’s virus creates zombies, Scalzi’s, androids.
What I find most interesting and wonderful about this is that Scalzi writes a best-seller style sci-fi book that is entertaining, but he also manages to make some very strong commentary about social issues and how we as a people deal with handicaps and discrimination.
I mentioned that this was an Audible book. Lock In is available by two different readers, Amber Benson or Wil Wheaton. It happens that when I went to look for a book to purchase, Benson’s version was on sale, so that’s the one I bought. While I’ve listened to other books read by Wheaton, and enjoyed them, I’m really glad that I bought the Benson narration. It was sharp, exciting and Benson really brought the character of Chris Shane to life for me.
I realize that the name Chris Shane is pretty much gender-neutral, and in my mind, because of the narration of Benson’s, the character is female. It changes very little in the story (a couple of lesbian-type references that would be heterosexual sex references otherwise). But as I look at other reviews, I see people referring to ‘his’ and ‘he’ when mentioning Shane. To me, Shane is feminine. I don’t think this is a mistake, but that Scalzi planned it that way. I think he’s sneaky like that.
This is a book worth reading, and if you enjoy listening to books, I highly recommend the Amber Benson reading of Lock In. My Audible edition included a novella with a great deal of background information on the virus and the timeline of what was done to develop the Threeps.
Looking for a good book? Lock In, by John Scalzi is an exciting medical sci-fi mystery story that manages to have a strong social impact as well. It is a MUST for science fiction readers.
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author: John Scalzi
reader: Amber Benson
publisher: Audible Studios
length: 11 hours (unabridged)