What It Means To Live In Your Own Head: Thoughts on John Scalzi’s Lock In

One of John Scalzi‘s great strengths as a writer, one I wish I could better understand and emulate, is that he almost never tells the same kind of story twice. Even in the same series. Even in the same novel – The Human Division moved so deftly between space opera and political thriller and media satire and slapstick comedy and family drama that the journey was just dazzling to behold.

So, it’s no surprise that his latest novel is almost entirely unlike anything he’s written before.

But there are still plenty of surprises to be found in Lock In. And again, it’s a wonder to see them unfold.

Lock In takes place in one of those all-too-near futures I love reading about. This world has been changed by a very different kind of “zombie” apocalypse: the pandemic of Haden’s Syndrome. It’s a disease that affects so many different people in so many different ways, from brief flu-like symptoms to death. But it’s two particular effects that transform the way we live.

A percentage of those who contract Haden’s end up “locked in,” fully conscious but trapped in their own minds. Another percentage come out of it with the ability to “integrate” with those locked in and carry them around in their own bodies. These two effects shape business, government, and all of society, as industries, politicians, and people at large try to make sense of the new reality they’re all locked into.

As you can imagine, they also make a murder investigation that much more complicated.

It’s a murder mystery that forms the plot of Lock In. And it’s a smashing plot indeed, with twists and revelations I’ll not spoil here. (I can’t even talk about the two FBI agents who serve as our heroes, as their identities and histories inform so much of that mystery.) But like so many great stories, especially in science fiction, that plot is really the means to much deeper ideas. And Scalzi make the most of his ideas, crafting a future that’s fully believable, and not a little scary.

The novel may offer no answers, but it asks great questions about how we treat the “disabled” among us. About the role of business and government in serving society. About the ways “disability” becomes culture. About the power of technology to shape and redefine humanity. Lock In has a LOT to say.

But it also has a LOT of fun saying it.

If you’re already a fan of Scalzi’s work, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. If you’re merely interested, it’s a great place to start. Either way, I’m highly recommending this one. It’s one of his best.

Thanks as always for following along. Until next time…

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