Lock In (John Scalzi)

Article by liz

Lock in: A Novel of the Near Future Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765381323
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Tor Books - August 4th, 2015

LOCK IN takes place a few decades into the future, after a meningitis-like pandemic has swept the globe, killing millions and drastically altering the brain shapes of a small percentage of survivors. Most of these survivors become “locked in”—unable to control their voluntary nervous systems, unable to communicate, but completely conscious and aware. After the United States government funds an enormous public health initiative to find a cure for Haden’s syndrome (so named for the most famous sufferer of lock in: Margie Haden, the First Lady) a whole host of treatments are developed: neural networks which allow the locked in to communicate, personal body-shaped transports, and the use of Integrators—people who aren’t locked in, but whose brains were changed by the virus enough that a Haden’s patient can piggyback onto their brainwaves and control their body. Of course, this practice is highly regulated and licensed, and impossible to take advantage of—right?

Here begins LOCK IN. Chris Shane is one of the highest-profile Haden’s patients, having been locked in as a toddler and growing up in the public eye—Chris's first steps were taken in a child-robot-esque personal transport, on national television. The book opens on Chris’ first day as an FBI agent, and first case: a case involving an Integrator, a murder, and corporate espionage of the highest order—just a few days before an enormous protest in favor of Haden’s rights is scheduled to take place in Washington, DC. Chris’ personal insight on Haden’s cases gives an insider perspective for the reader, but carries an outsider perspective on the world in LOCK IN; Chris inhabits the “marked” category, being the one who’s different from everyone else. Chris' empathy for other outsiders, and the marginalized communities being taken advantage of in LOCK IN, keeps a very human angle on this very technical future.

Most interesting, though, is the way the world of LOCK IN is still recognizably ours, being set so near in the future. It has the same topography, the same groups of people with their same ideas and biases. The people being taken advantage of today—minorities, the disabled, the marginalized—are still being taken advantage of, and one thing LOCK IN does, with Scalzi’s signature humor and tact, is give these groups of people a voice and agency. This similarity to our world is what makes near-future stories so interesting and so powerful: they’re still uncannily close to real life. Near-future stories give us a chance to see where we’re going and maybe, if we don’t like what we see, a chance to avoid it. Scalzi avoids handing down an easy answer to any of the uneasy questions posed by a post-Haden’s world—you’ll have to decide on your own how LOCK IN will shape your ideas of personhood and “real life.” It’s not a clear-cut answer, but that’s okay. LOCK IN makes sure you’ll have fun getting there.

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