Thursday, January 22, 2015

A fun and intriguing new scifi book from John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s newest novel, Lock In, seizes on the common science fiction premise of a mass epidemic and shows that there are far more nuanced and interesting places to go with that than the usual apocalypse or outbreak of zombie-ism.

Rookie FBI Agent Shane has grown up as the poster child for Hadens, who are those afflicted with locked-in syndrome as a result of that epidemic. Hadens cannot access their voluntary nervous systems, and would spend their lives trapped in uncommunicative, unmoving bodies were it not for the outpouring of technological developments in the wake of the disease. Shane’s rich and influential parents had the intent and the means to publicly normalize their son’s use of the new technologies, which allow him to navigate the physical world by means of a mentally controlled android.

The androids have been made accessible to all Hadens through government subsidy and have had a divisive effect on society. A vocal and growing minority is resentful of Hadens, feeling that they receive special rights and treatment. And a faction of the Hadens, some of whom have been locked-in since early childhood or even birth, are resentful of all the effort being poured into finding a “cure,” and of being considered victims, when they are perfectly happy in their current state.

Shane’s first day on the job coincides with the passage of a law ending government subsidies for the Hadens. A walk out and demonstration cause tensions to rise, leading to attacks on androids. To cap it off, a peculiar murder and a terrorist style bombing, both involving prominent figures in Haden rights and research, ensure that Shane won’t have time to catch up on his paperwork for quite a while.

In Lock In, Scalzi’s writing is masterfully deft and without frills—it’s all about the ideas and the deep exploration of the intersection of his fascinating premise with the vagaries of human nature.

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