Friday, January 22, 2016

Lock In by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is one of my favorite contemporary science fiction authors. His books are accessible but smart, funny but thought-provoking, quick reads but entirely re-readable. He's been compared favorably to Heinlein, albeit a feminist "version" rather than a chauvinistic one, and he is a well-respected if occasionally controversial member of the science fiction community.

Scalzi's 2014 book Lock In is something of a departure from his usual space opera fare. While it is still science fiction, it has more in common with a realistic-fic police procedural. Technically, it might best be categorized as cyberpunk (near-future stories featuring advanced medical technology, artificial intelligences, cyborg technology, etc.).

Lock In takes place in a near-future America, 25 years after an extremely contagious virus swept the globe. Most of the virus's victims recovered fully, but 1% experienced locked-in syndrome (a real condition documented by Jean-Dominique Bauby in his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). This syndrome -- renamed Haden's Syndrome in Lock In -- causes its victims to be completely paralyzed and unable to respond in any way to stimuli, all while being entirely aware and awake. Those fortunate enough to have the financial means can use robotic proxies, operated remotely via brain wave, to live fairly normal lives despite having their original body out of commission.

The book's protagonist, Chris Shane, was once the poster child for Haden's Syndrome thanks to his high-profile family -- but now he is just trying to make a career as an FBI agent. Early on in his assignment to a new partner, he gets involved in a murder case centered around some of the more complicated elements of a post-Haden's world. Questions of medical ethics, human (and robot) rights, consciousness, identity, and disability are all interwoven into a fast-paced investigation to try to track down a killer. Just think: if someone else could take over your body and make you do something, who would be responsible for that act?

This is a fantastic bridge book to introduce mystery readers to science fiction or vice versa. While not the most representative Scalzi novel, its witty voice will appeal to a wide range of readers. Lock In would be an easy sell to readers at a high school age or older, and would likely be enjoyed by some younger readers as well. Look for the audio book narrated by Star Trek and Big Bang Theory alum Wil Wheaton.


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