Scalzi, John. Lock In.

NY: Tor, 2014.

From the marketing hype I had seen, I was almost expecting a Crichton-type medical/biological holocaust thriller, which aren’t my thing at all — but it’s Scalzi, so I gave it a shot. I should have known better. Scalzi is one of the most original and inventive SF authors around these days, and he’s a far better writer than Crichton ever was. The result is a high tech romp that will keep you involved to the very end.

Well, yes, there was “an influenza-like global pandemic” that killed hundreds of millions and left millions of others fully awake and aware but completely paralyzed and dependent on machines for life. The U.S. government poured billions into developing ways of coping (urged on by the fact that the First Lady, Margaret Haden, was one of the victims) and now, a couple decades later (and not that far in our own future), things have settled down. And “Hadens,” as they are now known, are being reintegrated. The fact that you’re permanently restricted to a bed and being fed on a drip doesn’t mean you can’t hold a job and be a participating member of society. All you have to do is make use of the neural net surgically implanted in your brain to project your consciousness into your mobile “threep” (named for a very popular metalic android character in a famous science fiction film series) and get on with things. That’s the set-up and it’s quite a fascinating one.

Chris Shane is a Haden (a very famous and wealthy one, the son of a famous father, and an iconic poster boy for the condition when he was young) and it’s his first day on the job with the FBI. His new partner, Agent Vann, is an Integrator — one of those few who contracted the flu but recovered physically, but with significantly altered brain chemistry, which now allows them to carry a Hayden mind around as a passenger in their own brains. And the two have to deal with a dead body, possibly a murder victim, and another Integrator.

And that, of course, is only the beginning to what develops into a widespread plot involving a new law drastically reducing support for Hadens, plus a national movement involving thousands of threep protestors descending on D.C., plus the semi-independent Navajo Nation, plus corporate greed. The narrative moves at a steady pace and the dialogue is filled with cop-style dry wit. The techie explanations regarding how everything works in this world are very nicely done, too. And it appears this is only the first episode in an series. I’ll certainly be along for the ride.

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