Book Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In

Author: John Scalzi

Genre: Science Fiction/Police Procedural

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Awhile ago, I saw Lock In in my local independent bookstore. It looked cool but I was broke.

lock inSo I put it on my wishlist. Finally, I have gotten around to reading it mostly thanks to Audible credits.

First thoughts

I should have read this as a paper book. No, really. The audiobook includes a 2 hour novella but it’s tacked on to the end and I either missed that little piece of info in the beginning or it wasn’t announced. We were in the third act and I totally though a twist MUST be on the way because 2 hours of audiobook remained.

And…then it ended.

Can we….can we not do that? Just tack on 2 extra hours of… you know what? I’m getting off track.

Lock In is a REALLY COOL IDEA in a REALLY COOL BOOK and you can totally tell Scalzi is setting this up as a series (in fact, if Agent Vann doesn’t get her own spin-off series or a whole book just for her, I may riot).

Plot

This is a classic procedural thriller with sci-fi elements and Scalzi brings the two together in a fun and exciting way. There are androids and virtual reality and self-driving cars but otherwise it doesn’t seem like technology has changed too much. A lot of detail is spent explaining how Haden syndrome works as and how threeps work, which is important here because the Hadens (those who are locked in) and how they interact with society (and how society interacts with them) are the crux of the plot.

The only thing that got me a teensy bit down is that I called the whole thing from the first or second chapter (I can’t always keep track on audiobooks). I predicted the twist, the mystery, the answer, the villain, and the ending before we even hit the inciting event.

BUT, I only figured it out ebcause this is how I would have done it. I wasn’t trying to predict anything, I was just listening along in my car and thought, “You know what would be really cool?” And then the book turned out to be really cool exactly how I thought would be really cool.

I choose to take this as a sign that John Scalzi and I are on the same writing psychic wavelength and I cannot be held responsible for what story ideas I may pick up from that psychic plane.

Characters

Chris is a great protagonist and I’m looking forward to learning more about him as the series unfolds. I think my favorite little detail is how it’s his first few days on the job and Vann walks him through scenarios, and murder scenes. He’s a rookie and it shows. So often we get these new guys who are just amazing right out of the gate. Chris is still new so he doesn’t get everything right away, but he’s competent and resourceful.

And for those of you who got the audiobook with the female narrator or read the articles about Chris being agender, see the “LET’S TALK ABOUT GENDER” section below. I haven’t forgotten you.

Agent Vann. I effing love this woman. Her cocky, no-bull attitude belies a gut-wrenching backstory that you can pretty much guess once you learn she’s an integrator BUT she is so awesome that I didn’t care. She is everything Chris is not–experienced, jaded, more than a little on the wild side, and not above kicking ass and taking names. They make an excellent team.

The villain was great although the morality of the villainy gets a little complicated when you consider this person’s message earlier in the book and their ultimate motivations for doing what they did. Chris’ dad is really interesting, too. The mom’s part is so small that I tended to forget about her but Scalzi goes into a whole backstory on his dad, who also has a more to do. All in all, the supporting cast is diverse and everyone has their part to play. It’s a solid group.

Setting

Lock In seems to be set in the vague near-future where we have AMAZING BRAIN-TO-BRAIN NEURAL NETWORK CONNECTIONS and self-driving cars and otherwise it’s pretty much modern day. Seems like all the money for tech innovations went to getting Hadens out of their lock in.

I will say this book severely undermined my already shaky understanding of neural networks. They’re…modeling networks that…learn…and in here they’re basically uploading consciousness into mechs but only certain people can…oh who cares, they’re making a series out of this and I can’t wait to read more.

give it to me now gif.gif
Basically this. 

Source.

I really liked how Scalzi took advantage of the protagonist’s ability to basically upload his brain into a threep anywhere in the world, even if I’m a little fuzzy on exactly how that works (in case you couldn’t tell).

Where it started to break down for me is that these intersecting lines of privilege, illness, gender, race, etc. are implied (because the main conflict revolves around how Hadens are treated like non-people due to their locked in status) but the very real consequences of not being the majority are never really apparent. Perhaps Chris, a child of extremely wealthy parents, is not the best window into that world but, as looking through the eyes of an FBI agent who is an outsider from the majority simply because he is locked in, surely the reader would see some inequality that isn’t only focused on Hadens?

Overall

I am hoping some of the details I wished for in the first book will be in those to come. I’m giving Lock In 4 stars on the promise of more fleshed out world, characters, and action that keeps me listening when I really actually need to go to sleep.

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT GENDER

Disclaimer: I am not at all even close to being an expert on gender. And I LOVED Lock In. I want more. I want a Vann spin-off. I want it with last year’s Christmas presents.

But I am confused about how to react to the whole Chris-has-no-gender thing. Like, great? Yay for nonbinary representation? But also, could you have maybe put that in the book and had a real discussion about it?

I heard on the Writing Excuses podcast that the audiobook was sold in two copies (one with a male narrator and one with a female narrator) because Chris was locked in at such a young age that he never actually developed a concept of gender.

There are two reasons I’m confused.

First, having a male narrator makes Chris male. Having a female narrator makes Chris female. Not without gender, just not tied to one gender–but also not genderfluid because it’s just the one narrator throughout the book.

Second, Chris was locked in to his own body but moved about the world via threep even as a young child. So, it’s not like Chris spent his childhood isolated from what I assume is still a very gendered society.

I honestly would never have realized Chris was nonbinary unless I’d heard it on the podcast. Scalzi never indicates this lack of gender identity in the book, he merely removes gender pronouns and refuses to give us Chris’ biological sex, too. It’s also never discussed how other Hadens express gender via threeps, so we have nothing to compare Chris to.

This is an absence of information for the reader rather than actual identity of the character.

Think of it this way: The book is written in first person, but, if it had instead been written in third person, the author would have been forced to provide some gender pronoun, actively identifying the character as agender. There are pronouns for this. It could be done, but the book wouldn’t be as marketable.

In first person, removing gender identifiers doesn’t make the character agender, it just gives the reader no cues and allows him or her to fill in their own gender (which is what most people did). An agender character will interact with a gendered society differently than a person who identifies with a specific gender. If Chris is nonbinary, he must have these reactions, we simply aren’t privy to them.

The way I reconcile this book is:

Chris is a choose-your-own-gender character. For audiobook readers, we choose Chris’ gender by choosing which narrator to use. 

I read the Wil Wheaton version because duh, trekkie here, so I see Chris as male. If future books include gender pronouns outside the he or she binary, I’m happy to adapt.

It’s an interesting idea and it has no impact on the book unless you want to think about how it forces the author to withhold a lot of information about Hadens and threeps. Hopefully, we can get more active identification instead of information absence in subsequent books.

THIS IS THE END OF THE OFFICIAL REVIEW! There is another EXTREMELY SPOILERY little question below.

 

SPOILERS!

 

 

KIND OF. 

 

NOT REALLY. 

 

BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW ANYWAY SO NOBODY CAN YELL AT ME ABOUT IT.

 

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Okay, one really super spoilery thing I have to include here: Was there a climax to this book? Don’t get me wrong, the whole third act was very reminiscent of the full throttle winning of the third Girl With the Dragon Tattoo book. The antagonist is thoroughly owned, good guys win completely and absolutely, nobody dies, it’s awesome.

But there’s no conflict, no meeting of good vs. evil where anything is really at stake. The final interrogation scene reads like a victory lap. Basically, Chris figures out the mystery and then they proceed to be amazing at arresting people and getting them to confess.

This is another reason I thought there must be a twist–some kind of final battle where our heroes could actually lose. Again, this was an audiobook so maybe I was focused on driving and missed a scene but I would have liked to see Chris go up against Hubbard without the entire third act feeling like resolution. I felt like he needed to earn his win a little bit more.

I still give the book a solid 4 stars though. Now give me the next one!

 

Author: V. Kane

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @ValkyrieWriting or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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