Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Lockstep

When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.

Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.

Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.

Let's start with the obvious and work our way back from that (trust me that sentence is very funny after you read the book).  I am not a science person.  String theory or time travel is about my limit, everything else inhabits a hazy sort of nebulous region of "Well it sounds plausible".  I thought a lot of Star Trek sounded plausible and real so that's the level of scientific gullibility I have.  LOCKSTEP requires you to really think about what you're reading--not just the characters or their motivations, but how the world itself is configured.

This isn't a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.  Because I had to think so hard to keep in step with what came innately to the characters I felt more immersed in the world.  While Schroeder does explain the Lockstep program, the characters themselves (for the most part) live it so they discuss it in the same offhand manner someone discusses chewing gum.  The idea, and implementation of, Lockstep is curious and new.  Its not just a means of surviving in a universe where worlds crumble and decay so rapidly, its a religion, economic trade, punishment and political. 

Toby was a surprise.  Toby's family was a surprise, mostly in how that all turned out.  The synopsis is being a little disingenuous and taking some of what's going on out of context for Toby's family.  Toby was rational, level-headed and did not let his emotions cloud his thinking.  Its not that he didn't feel, or he didn't react badly or never made a misjudgement, but he thought about everything before he made a choice.  Who to talk to, who to trust, who not to trust.  Toby did a lot of thinking even as he was misled.

Toby's family, as you come to find out, is a complicated mess that stems as much from time being almost a play thing as it does from the fact that those involved lack communication almost completely.  Small petty things that in time work themselves out are magnified when one person thinks its been a couple months and the other has had years to stew over it.  When you can't hash it out with someone it just festers and these people raised it to practically a religion.

This probably isn't a book for everybody.  From a anthropological perspective this is fascinating and for hard science fiction fans the tech here is well worth pouring over.  Those who don't want to keep notes on who is when and where is when, not to mention the tangled religion that gets worst the further you read, this will probably frustrate them.