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Lock In

John Scalzi’s Redshirts was one of my favorite books of 2012 to recommend–fun and funny, Science Fiction but easily accessible to non-SF readers. Now he’s back with another high-concept Science Fiction title, Lock In. A disease called Haden’s Syndrome leaves its victims completely paralyzed–“locked in”–but with their mental facilities fully intact, calling for a series of technological workarounds such as Avatar-like robots. The meat of the novel is a detective story, and Scalzi leaves much of the back story behind Haden’s Syndrome out of the novel. Fortunately, for those of us interested in the details of the concept, Scalzi has published a prequel novella, “Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome”–available for free online on publisher Tor’s website. Our reviewer assures me that the novel makes perfect sense without the prequel (she read the novel first), but if you only have time for 45 pages or so, take a look at “Unlocked.” And by all means recommend Lock In to fans of Scalzi’s previous work, as well as SF fans in general.

SCALZI, John. Lock In. 336p. Tor. Aug. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780765375865. LC 2014015247.

A bird flulike virus has swept the world, leaving one percent of its victims “locked in”—fully aware and conscious, but unable to move their bodies. Partly because one of the early victims is the wife of a U.S. President, the syndrome (called Haden’s, after the first lady) has inspired all sorts of technological workarounds to help Haden sufferers, including a virtual reality network and even robots (called “threeps” after C3P0) that allow them to participate in daily life. Chris Shane is a Haden who comes from a privileged background—and was once the poster child for Haden’s research—and who has taken a job with the FBI. On his first day on the job, he and his partner are called to investigate a homicide that appears to have been committed by an Integrator, a licensed individual who temporarily shares a body and brain with a Haden. The investigation leads Chris and his partner to an Indian reservation, a lab that does Haden’s research, and even the dinner table of Chris’s own father, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Scalzi is a master at flippant dialogue and at integrating technological details and moral and ethical dilemmas into a fast-moving story. Teens who like their science fiction straight and realistic (with a dash of humor) will enjoy this one.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark