Initial Thoughts on John Scalzi’s “Lock In” (Spoilers)

I just finished John Scalzi’s Lock In, and I have an array of thoughts. I’ve decided to post it here instead of my (poor, under used) book tumblr for two reasons: 1) it is a very disability centric work and 2) a lot of my reflections on it are not just disability centric, but also neurodiversity related. NOTE: There will be spoilers in this post. If you wish to avoid spoilers, skip the read more/reading past the warning.

I really enjoy Scalzi’s work generally. It’s far from perfect, of course, but generally speaking he tries pretty hard to do good. In the past he’s done things like announce that he will not make appearances at fan conventions that do not have a strong anti-harassment policy, signal boosted and backed up via giving them guest posts on his popular blog when friends have reported sexual harassment, and talks bluntly about discrimination. Sure, he has flaws both structural and personal, but he has grown greatly over the years.

His writing is also, in the general rather than disability sense, pretty accessible on a whole for his genre. I have Audio books of his Old Man’s War universe of books, and Old Man’s War in particular is one of those books that I’d rec to someone who isn’t super familiar with but willing to get into reading Science Fiction. (Trust me when I say that Science Fiction is a genre with a LOT of not terribly accessible writing.)

the Cover of John Scalzi's "Lock In" featuring plastic figurines of people. most are a pale white color. but a few are bright red. The author's name and title are in the center.

Cover Image via John Scalzi and TOR

The basic premise involves a bit of background, and summarizing it here is going to make it sound more complicated than it feels in the novel. In the universe of Lock In, a flu like epidemic strikes. At first it sees like any epidemic flu- high mortality rate, sure, but normal- until the second stage sets in: meningitis. And not just any meningitis- this one will put you in a coma and a certain percentage will wake up with their brain re-wired. Sometimes it’s minor, but for a decent chunk of the population they wake up to a form of Lock In Syndrome- their brains have changed so much that even though they are awake and conscious, they no longer have control of their bodies.  Other survivors of the second stage of the illness, those with less extensive brain changes, have the ability via technological enhancement to allow the consciousness of those who are locked in to “borrow” their bodies. They are called Integrators.

After FLOTUS  Haden contracts the locked in form, a ton of legislative dollars got dumped into a fund that would cover both care and treatment as well as quality of living research areas and the illness is named “Haden’s” after her last name. Neural nets are developed to  allow those locked in access to a digital world. At some point an engineer develops robots (Threeps) that can be “ridden” by those locked in, and they are once again able to access the outside world.

The book takes place 20 years later. While there’s some bigotry towards Hadens, there has been a lot of pretty darn effective accommodations via the epic assistive device of the Threeps. Thanks to that, Hadens can do just about any job anyone able bodied could do- and some that they cannot. Additionally, the digital world of the Agora has allowed for the development of a Haden’s culture of its own, complete with identity-first language usage, and some younger folks end up rarely using a Threep preferring the online world and jobs that they are able to do from there. (In this universe, I’d be able to continue my social media contracting work even if I were a Haden.)  Unfortunately, this also means that there are fiscal conservatives who want to cut nearly all money for Haden’s research, support, and development- and they do nearly just that. As the book starts there is about a week until the defunding legislation (The Abrams-Kettering Act) goes into effect.

Into this setting we follow Chris Shane, a new FBI agent- who happens to also be a PoC Haden- as his first week on the job kicks off with what looks like a murder. His new partner, Leslie Vann, is a former integrator and together they work in a special department that handles cases involving Hadens and Integrators. (For procedural purposes, any crime involving a Hadens or an on duty Integrator are considered inter-state, since the body of a Hadens could be anywhere while the Threep comits/is involved in crime. Ditto for an on duty Integrator.) The murder ends up becoming something much more, and we are treated to a pretty good tale that is something between corporate and procedural thriller. In the end I really really enjoyed it, but for me personally I had a hard time with some aspects up until the final few chapters. However, I will say that I already want to read it again just in the time that it’s taking me to write this post. I hope that Scalzi writes more in this universe, if only a short story set immediately afterwards- I want to know what was being said in those speeches!

You can read the first five chapters of Lock In on TOR’s Website. You can read a long short story that goes into details about the background in an interview narrative style on TOR’s website. It is called “Unlocked” and stylistically reminded me of the book World War Z. You can of course purchase it on Amazon, but please consider purchasing from a local book dealer or independent retailer- see details at the very end of the post. 

From here out there are spoilers, read at your own risk. Continue reading