Audiobook Review: Lock In by John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Also by this author: The Dispatcher
Published by Audible Studios on August 26th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Length: 10 Hours
A novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern SF.
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....
Lock In is a fast, fun thriller type of read. In the not so distant future, the world is plagued with a new virus, named Haden’s Syndrome (after the president whose wife and daughter were afflicted). 95% of people who get it fully recover, 4% suffer from meningitis, and then the final 1% experience something we have not had to deal with before (thankfully). They are what is termed “locked in”, they have fully functioning minds, they are completely aware of what their surroundings and what is happening, but are left completely incapacitated, unable to interact in any way. They are locked in to their own minds. This is just terrifying! Imagine being so isolated, completely paralyzed, but still being able to comprehend everything. *shudder* Sadly, science is unable to find anyway for these people to control their bodies again. But, thankfully for these victims, there have been large strides made to help restore their ability to interact and communicate other ways by the time our story takes place (25 years after Haden’s first strikes).
The first way is a sort of virtual reality environment where someone who is locked in can view what is like a virtual reality environment, but in our reality, they are interfacing in the real world with specialized type of robot (called a Threep). This is really interesting. When you think of stories like Ready Player One or Snow Crash where there are people who live most of their lives connected to a virtual reality, I have to say I love the concept of this combined effort. In fact, this is not a virtual reality, but gives the victims a way to become active members of the real physical world in a way their bodies deny them. It is a wonderfully empowering solution for the victims, and there is such a huge number of them, that people are accustomed to interfacing with threeps. Of course, humans being humans, there is always some group that will be prejudice to another group that is ‘different’, and Threeps are no exception. But overall, this is a wonderful advancement.
The second option is that some victims of Haden’s Syndrome (not those that are locked in), find they have the ability to ‘host’ someone who is ‘locked in’, essentially, sharing their body with another person for a time. These people are called Integrators.
Now, I want to point out part of the blurb:
Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse….
Ha ha ha! OK, blurb, thank you for being insanely optimistic/sarcastic. 🙂 But yes, this does pose a very interesting dynamic, and Integrators, while a great opportunity, can also create some interesting legal dilemmas and hurdles when investigating a crime. Which is where our protagonist comes in! The first week as an FBI agent is just non-stop insanity with action, intrigue and of course some humor.
I enjoyed the characters in this, had fun with the story. And one thing I didn’t think of initially is that the protagonist’s gender in this is never revealed. With a name like Chris, it could go either way. I had been quite curious why there were two versions of the audiobook (one male narrator, and one female narrator) before reading, but now I suspect that was done to intentionally obscure any hints (or commitment) to gender, keeping it completely neutral. I did find myself assuming the protagonist was male, but I did listen to the audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton, I would imagine if I listened to the other version, I would have found myself assuming the protagonist was female. I really appreciate this gender neutrality, because when it comes down to it, does it matter if the protagonist is male or female? It really doesn’t.
The narration was very good, there are some areas where they delve into technical details and everything was easy to follow. I also found Wheaton’s style and narration to be a great fit for personifying the story. But as much as I enjoyed it and can recommend it, I am curious how this version compares to the one narrated by Amber Benson and how listening to the female narration may have impacted my impression. I suspect the only difference is that I’d find myself defaulting to the female gender instead of the male. But overall, the character and events and everything else would be the same and completely independent of gender. I enjoyed this aspect in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and while this is much more subtle, it is interesting to think about and can draw attention to our default assumptions.
And for as fun and action packed as this book was, it also has some real life issues laced through out it. There are areas of prejudice and hate crimes, equals rights, health care, campaign funding and special interest groups. It’s there for you as a reader to notice and think about if you so choose. If not, then you still have an intriguing mystery and lots of action and cool details on robots and integrators that serve as a virtual interface for victims left in a state of lock in.