A few months back I wrote about Unlocked, the companion/prequel/whatever to Lock In. Unlocked was a cool oral history thing, and it was followed by the first chapter of Lock In, which was not an oral history thing but which made me really really really excited to read the book.
I may have been a little too excited, possibly? But it’s a really fun book nonetheless.
The premise is really cool — the book takes place post-This Thing That Happened (the explanation of that left mostly to Unlocked) that left some number of people entirely immobile but still capable of thought, and then some enterprising inventors created robot bodies that could interface with those people’s brains and which could be used to allow said people to wander around and do more or less human things, provided that someone was around to feed the paralyzed body and keep it from dying of sepsis or whatever. It’s a bit complicated.
Our hero, Chris Shane, is one of these so-called Hadens and also a newly minted FBI agent with a non-Haden, cynical, self-destructive partner called Leslie Vann. On Shane’s first day on the job, Shane and Vann are called to a murder scene where the suspected murderer is still there, but not entirely sure he did anything wrong — turns out his job is to act as a human version of the robot bodies Hadens use and that someone else may or may not have been in control of his body at the time. It’s… very complicated. And awesome.
It is definitely a Scalzi book. There’s politics and intrigue and odd humor and a plot line that was drawn with a spirograph and quotes for all occasions, like the ever-useful “Not all of my ideas are going to be gold.” There were certain points at which I found myself feeling a bit of Scalzi overload, with too many characters all sharing the exact same sense of humor and political leanings (and those traits matching the ones I see every day on Scalzi’s blog), but the plot kept on moving right along and I was able to let it drag me away from thinking about it too much. And oh, that plot. Intrigue! Machinations! An ending that probably doesn’t hold up well to strict scrutiny but whatever it’s awesome!
Scalzi also does a fancy thing that I am going to spoil, in the real sense of the word because it’s actually way cooler when you figure it out for yourself so go buy the book and read it and then come back here and we can talk about this. Done? Okay. So, Scalzi, by writing in the first person and having his main character walking around in a robot body thing, manages never to use a gendered pronoun in relation to Chris Shane, which I kind of realized while reading the book but which was hammered home when my husband started talking about Shane and what she was doing and how cool she was and I was like, dude, Shane’s a dude. I think. I’m pretty sure. I don’t think it said so in the book, maybe?, but it said so in Unlocked. Orrrrr I guess it was just a weirdly worded sentence. Well. Huh.
So Scalzi deftly tackles gender roles and gets in some good digs at prejudice in general (see: robot bodies not being allowed to sit in chairs at restaurants because humans who actually eat food need those chairs), although he glosses over the class issues that I thought could have been really interesting but hey, you can only fit in so much social commentary between gunfights and chases and cross-country body swaps. It’s still quite impressive.
I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from this world, and when we do I will be there with bells on.
Recommendation: For fans of Scalzi and/or certain dearly departed sci-fi buddy-cop television shows.