This science fiction crime thriller is set in a really intriguing world with a fascinating premise.
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. Most of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. A few suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1 per cent find themselves ‘locked in’ – fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. It may not seem like a lot. But in the US alone 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 fully restore the locked in, but two new technologies emerge to help. One is a virtual-reality environment, ‘The Agora’, where the locked in can interact with other humans. The second is the discovery that a few rare individuals have minds that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing the locked in to occasionally 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…
Yes, yes – I know… The blurb goes on forever. But you need to know this stuff to fully appreciate and understand the world, because Scalzi doesn’t hang about giving long-winded explanations. This book hits the ground running in first person viewpoint, as Chris Shane walks into the FBI building on his first day as a fully-fledged agent. He is coping with more than the usual first day nerves – Chris Shane is a Haden, whose helpless body is back in his parents’ home being cared for, while his consciousness is uploaded into a threep – a robotic body that allows him to talk, hear, see and move. And on his second day at work, Chris and his partner, Agent Vann, are called to an incident where a car has been crushed when a love seat was flung out of a hotel window, and on further investigation, they discover a dead body in the hotel room.
The odd circumstances of this case go on becoming increasingly bizarre as Scalzi ramps up the tension in this cracking whodunit, where this single incident is the start of a string of violent crimes involving Hadens. Next to science fiction and fantasy, crime is my favourite genre, and I’m a real sucker for those whodunits where the plot weaves into a complicated conspiracy theory that has the capacity to undermine society itself… Of course, in order to be able to pull off such a plot, the case needs to lead off in unexpected directions involving some of the political and industrial game-changers in society. Scalzi has brilliantly laid the framework for this in his world struggling to cope with the aftereffects of a virus that has burned through the population, leaving swathes of people coping with terrible symptoms. The resources of our near future technologies have been aimed at alleviating the consequences of the virus. But there is a price to pay and Scalzi also fully explores the tensions between sufferers and non-sufferers as the Government attempts to start withdrawing some of the expensive support it offers.
For those who claim that near future crime thrillers cannot work in a world where everyone is linked up to social media, I advise you to read Lock In. Scalzi has set up a fascinating world where his likeable FBI agent and world-weary partner attempt to unravel a series of crimes that simply couldn’t be committed now – we don’t have the technology or circumstances. I was caught up in the mystery from the first page and whirled away into Scalzi’s world until the successful denouement. This is Scalzi at his very best.