“Lock In,” while still well within the realm of Science Fiction, struck me as being a little bit off the beaten path for John Scalzi. In addition to the SF elements there was also some direct discussion of physical disability and how society deals with it, and a refreshing dollop of police procedural to make it all hang together.
The physical disability is that of the phenomenon known as Locked-In Syndrome. It generally occurs when someone has a very particular type of stroke that leaves all of the voluntary muscles completely paralyzed, but the mind unaffected. To get an idea of what life is like for these people, an excellent book to read is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was written by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby after he suffered such a stroke, and then Locked-In Syndrome.
Here’s where the Science Fiction bit of the book enters. A disease strikes the world that leaves a multitude of people with Locked-In Syndrome (called Haden’s Syndrome in the book), and some very interesting ways of getting these people active again in the outside world. There’s the ability to ride someone’s mind in a way, seeing through their eyes, and using their body, and there are also metal bodies that can be controlled with the mind alone, allowing the sufferer of Haden’s Syndrome to have complete control of themselves. (Mecha! my mind gleefully exclaimed, but no, not quite.) Scalzi glides a bit over how all this works so well, with neural networks and major brain modifications and such, but then this isn’t hard Science Fiction and I’m fine with that. It wasn’t egregiously unbelievable by any means; my suspension of disbelief worked perfectly well while I read the book.
The political and police procedural bit comes in with a character named Chris Shane who has Haden’s Syndrome and is also a newly minted FBI agent. Add a change to the Federal laws about how people with Haden’s Syndrome are to be treated and assisted by the government, and a truly unscrupulous business tycoon, and you suddenly have an action-packed story.
I enjoyed Lock In. I always enjoy John Scalzi’s books. He writes entertaining Science Fiction that occasionally forays into the thought-provoking but mostly stays solidly in the that-was-a-well-spent-two-hours category. Was Lock In the kind of book where I end up saving off all sorts of quotes and pondering something new to me for a while? Nah. But it was time well-spent for reading before bed and enjoying myself.
I did come away with one quote that I had marked, and I’ll place it here before ending this review.
“Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses.”
Indeed, Mr. Scalzi, indeed.