The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Lock In by John Scalzi. There are two books you’ll probably never see mentioned in the same sentence again.
Portrait was for my book club. We meet later this month on it. At an Irish pub of course. And on a night with an Irish band. I listened to it on audio. That was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because Irish accents are the best accents in the world. It was a curse because I couldn’t easily skip to the end of the fire and brimstone preaching or the long philosophical debates. I would give you and analysis of the book but I can’t top the one you’ll be delighted with here by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D.
Lock In is set in the not too distant future, about 20 or 30 years after a devastating pandemic has changed humanity in some interesting ways. Some folks got flu like symptoms and either died or recovered. A smaller portion of those got meningitis-like symptoms but otherwise left them mostly okay. A smaller number of those went a step further and became locked into their bodies, with only the hope of future technology to let them communicate. An even smaller number got the meningitis-like symptoms, had their brains altered a bit, but were also okay. We’ll say around 100,00 of those with around 4 million or so lock-ins. The novel takes place at a time years after the United States and some others have dumped a Mars-mission amount of money into research and technology and “nowdays” there is technology available to make google Glass owners drool. A lock in victim may use an artificial body to “drive” around in the world while their body remains locked in. And those 100,000 I mentioned? They can integrate with the lock ins. So let’s say you’re a lock-in but want to do something more physical like feel what it’s like to make a waterslide run or something. You can pay one of these Integrator folks to let you drive their body around for a specified amount of time (and for specific activities, of course).
Now throw in a very confusing murder mystery with a couple of Integrators in a hotel room that looks like suicide or murder or something, but definitely fishy. So the FBI sends a team of new partners which includes a former Integrator and a lock-in driving an artificial body.
The coolness goes on from there. So this might be one of those science fiction books that people who don’t always gravitate to SF might like. It’s more of a murder thriller with some interesting technological twists than just straight SF. It plays out like a two hour bigger budget Law & Order. Or something. There’s a lot of talking and figuring things out but there is always mind expanding technology ideas and just enough action to keep the pages turning. (If the murder doesn’t grab you, the terrorist attack and multiple attempts on the FBI partners’ lives might.)
Other than murder and technology, there is a lot of interesting things to think about when it comes to disability and gender. The locked-in are their own community of sorts and deal with their own forms of bigotry. In some ways it mirrors deaf culture and in others it’s similar to the physically disabled.
Is it rude and/or bigoted that some restaurants and cafes reserve seating for the physically bodied and ask the locked-in using artificial bodies to use standing tables? If you “kill” a locked-in person’s artificial body is it attempted murder or property damage? And so on.
As for gender, Scalzi plays a long, quiet game with the reader regarding the POV character, Chris Shane. Chris is never explicitly identified as male or female. He even had two actors read the audiobook so you can buy it with a male (Wil Wheaton) or female (Amber Benson) reading. There are other instances of gender (and race and more) identification issues that are embedded in the story. Sometimes they are commented on, sometimes not. You can dwell on them or you can just enjoy a good thriller. Up to you.
Oh, and as usual, Scalzi commissioned a lovely theme song for the novel. This time from William Beckett.