Monday, 1 February 2016

Lock In by John Scalzi

 

This is a very satisfying mystery, with an interesting science fiction twist. The conspiracy is well-done and eerily believable. As always, Scalzi's books are immensely readable, with prose that bops you along in the story without being intrusive, propelling the story forward. At the end, however, I did start to notice a trend in his books, and while I like it, there's also a fear that it's a well he might return to too often. But we'll come back to that.

The background to the book: a flu-like disease eventually named Haden's, after the affected First Lady of the United States, swept the world twenty-odd years ago. Many people died, some from the virus, some from virus-induced meningitis. A small proportion survived the meningitis but were literally "locked-in" to their bodies, unable to move or speak. Vast amounts of money were poured into research, ending up in robot bodies that Haden's survivors who are locked in can use to interact with the world. 

But there are also a few, who survived the meningitis and were not locked in - changes in their brain structure mean they can carry another Haden's mind along with them for a time, allowing them to experience bodily sensations other than lying in a bed being tended. They're called Integrators

It's a good premise, right? Well, it's the background for a mystery. One Haden's survivor, Chris Shane, despite being the scion of a very wealthy family, joins the FBI just as there's a major push for Haden's rights, when Congress decides to pull funding for research and the Agora, a virtual world where many Haden's patients spend most of their time.  His first case, he's called to a hotel room where an man lies dead in a pool of blood, and an Integrator sits on the bed. He's the brother of the woman who is the leader of the Haden's civil rights movement.

The man who was killed was Navajo, another Haden's survivor, with very little paper trail about his entire life. There is a strange device on the floor that makes no sense. The Integrator is confused about what happened. 

From here, it's a police procedural, in a world where robots walk among us as avatars for humans. (Threeps, they're called in polite conversation, which I'm sure would gratify a certain gold-coloured robot.) It's still a world where money talks, both in Haden's, and just in...money. 

I'm not going to go any further into the plot, but if you're looking for accomplished and fun science fiction, this is where you should be looking. The ideas are not the main point of the plot, but they're integrated well, if lightly. 

That brings us to the trend. I've now realized that I've read at least two of Scalzi's books where the evil guy at the end gets smacked the fuck down by the forces of law and justice. (I'm thinking Fuzzy Nation as the other.)  It's immensely satisfying to see the bad guy outfoxed at every turn, to watch as he squirms and figures out EXACTLY how fucked he really is. (It's the same pleasure that the third Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book affords.) It's deeply rewarding to see the system working for fucking once, taking down those who abuse and murder and hurt because they have the money, instead of the money shielding them from the system.

So it's not that I don't enjoy it. It's not that I don't enjoy it here. I'm merely pointing it out as something that Scalzi tends to do, and does it well. But on the other hand, is it a little too easy that at the end, the bad guys are so thoroughly unprotected? I don't want nihilism, and goodness knows I like optimistic science fiction. So all I'm saying at this point is, it's a trend.

And damn, is it ever satisfying.

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