Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lock In, by John Scalzi (author), Wil Wheaton (narrator)

Audible Studios, August 2014

Just a few years in the future, a new disease that initially looks like a really bad bird flu variant sweeps through the world in a pandemic that puts the 1918 Spanish flu to shame. It soon reveals itself as something very new, that causes a small percentage of its survivors to experience complete loss of voluntary muscle control, while mental faculties remain unimpaired. This horrifying condition becomes known as "lock in," and the disease that causes it is called Haden's syndrome.

Twenty-five years later, Haden's patients have neural networks implanted in their brains, and can control robot "personal transports," popularly called "threeps." (For C3PO.) Alternatively, they can hire an Integrator, someone who also had Haden's but didn't progress all the way to lock in, and emerged with an altered brain structure that lets them, with the help of a neural network of their own, act as living bodies for paying Haden's clients.

Chris Shane, having spent childhood being the Haden's poster child, one of the first to use a threep, is now a rookie FBI agent, teamed with experienced agent Leslie Vann. On Chris's first real day on the job, they are called to the scene of a murder with some very unusual features. The apparent killer, found over the body, is an Integrator, Nicholas Bell. Bell says he doesn't think he did it. And if he was carrying a client at the time, maybe he didn't--but he won't say.

The problem is that the victim is also apparently an Integrator, except he has no records of any kind, which is impossible.

Shane and Vann have a very tangled mystery on their hands, and they quickly find it has potentially major political implications, as well. And that's before the attempt to kill Vann and Shane.

Scalzi has created both an excellent mystery and a convincingly complex and textured near future world. The technology has advanced, impressively in some ways, but not implausibly given where we are now and the driving force of hundreds of thousands of locked-in Haden's patients spread throughout the population. The mix of virtue and corruption in both politics and business feels real, with neither field caricatured. I do think an especially nice touch is the plausible extrapolation of changing relations between the USA and the Native American nations within our borders.

It should come as no surprise to John Scalzi's fans that he both assumes and reflects gender equality within the world of his novel. An extra reflection of this is that Chris Shane's gender is never stated--and the audiobook is available in two versions, one narrated by Wil Wheaton and the other by Amber Benson. This makes a subtle difference in the listener experience, but requires no word changes at all. Personally, I chose the Wil Wheaton version because I happen to like Wil Wheaton as a narrator, but I was really tickled by the fact that the choice exists.

Another feature of the audio edition (either one) is a bonus novella, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome.

And finally, because this is a John Scalzi book, and he attracts talented people and unlikely ideas, there is a Lock In theme song, though it is not included in the audio editions.

Highly recommended.

The Lock In theme song!

I bought this book.

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