Hugo Award winner John Scalzi’s latest novel Lock In is an entertaining and thought-provoking murder mystery set in the near future. Twenty years before the novel begins, an unprecedented new virus — known as the “Great Flu”— swept the globe, killing 400 million people and affecting many more. Some who survived the pandemic were beset by the disease’s terrifying second stage: a condition called “lock in”, or total-body paralysis. Haden’s Syndrome, as it came to be called, became the focus of a dedicated government research effort that, while failing to find a cure, produced a variety of technologies which allowed locked-in individuals (“Hadens”) to lead active lives.
At the outset of Lock In (the novel), Agent Chris Shane’s first day at the FBI is a real doozy. John Doe has been found murdered at the Watergate Hotel, and the prime suspect is Nicholas Bell. Bell is an Integrator: one of the few whose brains were affected by the Great Flu in such a way that they avoided “lock in” and, with a little help from technology, can now let Hadens hitch a ride in their minds and experience an active human body for a little while — for a fee, of course. The trouble? Besides refusing to give up the Haden who had been renting his body at the time, Bell claims not to remember killing John Doe. Integrators are not supposed to be able to black out during sessions, so what’s really going on here?
Scalzi’s plot is tightly drawn, never boring, and full of humor. He poses interesting questions about what happens when politics get tired of paying for medical research and subsidies for citizens who need them. And of course, there is technology which, despite doing enormous amounts of good, can also be used by unscrupulous individuals for nefarious purposes. Lock In will not disappoint either fans of science fiction or those who just like a good story.