and Unlocked, a bonus novella
pub. 2014 John Sclazi
Read by Wil Wheaton
…right, that bears more explaining. 25 years ago, a disease swept the planet and reduced the global population by a billion, between the people it killed outright and those it left trapped in their own bodies, their brains so altered by the virus they can no longer make use of their voluntary nervous systems. One of the most prominent victims of the disease was the president’s wife, and in grief the chief executive threw everything the United States had at the disease. The three trillion devoted to finding a cure, however, delivered something else: it delivered ways for the locked-in to experience the world through the eyes, ears, and other senses of humanoid robots, or even other humans – when not otherwise escaping their bodies into the digital playground known as the Agora. The ability of the locked in to borrow someone else’s body is why this murder is going to get complicated, especially after it turns out that someone’s body can be borrowed without their permission.
Enter Chris Shane, one of the first to use those humanoid robots now known as Threeps, who works for the FBI investigating crimes relating to the locked-in population, commonly known as Hadens after the most famous victim of the disease. Along with a chain-smoking detective who also has a Haden connection, they’ll find that the truth is far more complicated still. A police mystery develops, through technological twists and turns, into a general thriller, and Shane finds a way — with the help of the Navajo nation — to expose the truth. Although I was worried from the start that the plot would be a little too complex to follow via audiobook, I was able to keep up fairly well, and the premise is so fascinating in itself that I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘oral history of Haden’s syndrome’ which followed the novel proper. (It’s a World War Z esqe narrative based on interviews with doctors, reporters, politicial figures, engineers, etc which explains the backstory in full. It’s a lot more interesting to read after the novel, however, rather than spoiling the emerging world beforehand.)
Scalzi’s book makes for a fun mystery in itself, especially for those of us who prefer near-future SF. There are many SF references, of course, the biggest being that the humanoid robots are called Threeps after the first person to use one spotted herself in a mirror sand said “I look like C-3P0!” Lock In‘s world is essentially our own, except for the mind-controlled robots. The autonomous vehicles so common here are nosing their way into society now, and I daresay it won’t be long before we have glasses or implants to experience the ubiquitous “digital world” without the use of phones. The emergence of Hadens victims as a distinct ‘ethnic’ group, or at least a subculture, is particularly fascinating, and I plan to read the next book in this series.
Regarding the audiobook specifically: Wheaton is fantastic, but there was some obvious line-patching in which the volume and tone of one sentence suddenly didn’t flow with the others. That’s the first time I’ve heard any problems in an Audible presentation, but didn’t detract too much from Wheaton’s otherwise standard-stellar performance. Unlocked uses numerous different actors for the interviewees, a choice I’m most impressed by. It would have been easy and cheap just to have a pair of male and female authors reading the lines, but the different actors give their personas real distinction, and often definite personality — the stunned doctor and the jaded criminal were especially memorable.