Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Review: Lock In

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....

This was an interesting read.  Redshirts, which was one of my favorite books of 2012, and it was (for a Star Trek fan like myself) utterly awesome in ways that are hard to explain.  It had its flaws, but overall it worked really well for me.  Lock In by comparison convinced me that Scalzi's fictional writing just works for me. 

While ostensibly a science fiction novel (with lots of talk of neural interfaces, robotics, viruses) this comes across more like a police proceduralOur guy Shane, a wealthy victim of Haden's from a very young age who's second day on the job as a FBI agent lands him into a conspiracy of MAJOR proportions, is economical and precise.  Its not that he doesn't have a sense of humor or that he doesn't show his feelings, its more that he studies and learns and strategizes before taking most actions.

He draws connections and uses the resources available to him--his new housemates, his partner's history, his family's wealth and prestige--to form conclusions that aren't slapdash.   Actually some of the more amusing moments are when people either realize which Chris Shane he is.  His father, a prominent real estate tycoon and former basketball player, spearheaded what it meant to have a family member with Haden's Syndrome.  Multiple times its mentioned that because of the visibility Shane had as a child society as a whole was able to humanize what was happening to those Locked In.

There are drawbacks to Shane's narrative tone though; there are sometimes infodumps that feel like a teacher explaining something to you.  The first chapter or so, as Shane walks us through his life/his new career, is largely one big information quagmire.  And while we get a pretty good idea of what it means to be Locked In, I could not for the life of me picture the "threeps" (or the Transport Modules).  I'm not sure if that's a failure of imagination on my part of is that's a fallacy in the fact Shane never sees a reason to describe what they look like fully (why would he?).

Throughout much of the book the "threat" that is front and center has more to do with hacking Integrators (those who survive past the 2nd stage but are not locked in) then anything else.  There's sideline problems that crop up (profitizing the Agora now that the government was privatizing Haden's Syndrome treatment, a possible "cure" for Locked Ins that's drawing a lot of controversy), but the main threat is the Integrator problem.  It sometimes felt a bit too much however.  Much in the way the ending of Redshirts revealed just one complication too many, Lock In reveals the bad guys' aim from the very first death and it was just too much.

Lock In was an immersive, thoughtful look into the near future.  Scalzi handles both the day to day minutiae of being a Locked In victim (apartment hunting, bedsores, vulnerability of your biological body) and the new culture of living outside yourself really well.  It felt real when Shane and Vann would discuss what it meant to be an Integrator or Locked In.  How to deal with the idea that you are and you aren't yourself.  The coping mechanisms they had to get through a situation they had no choice in.

Definitely worth reading and recommended.