The novel “Lock In” by John Scalzi was published for the first time in 2014.
Chris Shane is starting a career as an FBI agent with the difficulty of being one of the many people suffering from Haden’s syndrome. Unable to control his body, Chris moves indirectly in the world by controlling a robot through a neural implant. This gives Chris a unique perspective in cases involving other people suffering from the same syndrome.
The first case for Chris Shane and agent Leslie Vann is made even more complicated by the fact that the suspect of a murder is a Integrator. Those are rare people suffering from Haden’s syndrome who not only retain the ability to interact with the outside but can also allow other people to use their body. The investigation expands rapidly but for every answer they get the two agents appear to find new questions.
“Lock In” begins like a science fiction detective story set some decades in the future, after a pandemic caused many millions of deaths and left permanent consequences for more millions of people. In the novella “Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome”, John Scalzi tells the story of the pandemic through testimonies of people involved in the research on it.
A small percentage of people affected by what was called Haden’s syndrome lost the ability to interact with the outside world. For this reason, those who suffered that consequence are called in slang “locked in”. After years of research the development of neural implants allowed them to interact indirectly, in a virtual world called Agora or controlling an android robot called a threep after Star Wars droid C-3PO that can move in the physical world.
Being locked in and interacting using means other than their physical body strongly influences the lives of these people. This is especially true for people struck by Haden’s syndrome when they were very young who therefore have very limited experience of normal interactions.
Among these people there’s Chris Shane, who tells the story in first person of the first investigation as an FBI agent. Through that story, John Scalzi gives us an immersion into this future in which Haden’s syndrome influenced very strongly the whole society and not only the people affected.
John Scalzi didn’t define Chris Shane’s gender, an important element to understand how the protagonist’s identity is influenced by the fact that physically is moving in the world using a number of robots. For this reason, the American audiobook was released in two versions: one read by actor Wil Wheaton and one read by actress Amber Benson.
The investigation told in “Lock In” begins with a very particular murder because the suspect is a so-called Integrator. It’s a very rare type of people who were struck by Haden’s syndrome but instead of being locked in the consequence is that they can host another person’s consciousness.
Integrators can be an alternative to threeps for locked ins who for some reason want to interact with the world using a human body. They’re specifically trained for their work and the information about people who use their bodies are confidential. This makes Chris Shane and Leslie Vann’s investigation complicated from the beginning and it expands with each discovery.
The investigation’s story allows John Scalzi to provide a wealth of information about the society of that future and in particular the consequences of Haden’s syndrome. The author is good at putting here and there details useful to understand Chris Shane’s story and in general of the minority of locked in people maintaining the narration fluid.
In a novel that’s not very long, John Scalzi is able to create a complex plot with solid foundations in the story of Haden’s syndrome. What starts as a science fiction detective story becomes a story of the evolution of society in the future. The social developments haven’t ended with the possibility for locked in people to move in the physical world using threeps.
Chris Shane is in a time when political choices can bring new changes in the life of locked in people and indirectly in the rest of society. The consequences of those choices and technical and scientific developments are key factors in “Lock In”, as well as some crime developments.
The exploration of the consequences of Haden’s syndrome and the culture developed among the people affected by it are what I think make this novel excellent together with an intriguing plot. The rights for a television adaptation have already been purchased and John Scalzi announced a sequel. “Lock In” has its own end so I have no hesitation in recommending reading it.