I went through a medical thriller phase when I devoured the works of Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. Epidemics that came from infected animals, tracking patient zero, or the mad search for a cure before most of the population dies scintillated my imagination. So when I discovered that John Scalzi‘s Lock In was centered around a disease, I was definitely on board. But it was so much more, a science fiction opus I enjoyed so much.
The infected gets a flu very similar to the bird flu. Then they get meningitis, a swelling in their brains. And some would then go into a third phase, lock in, where they are trapped inside their bodies while their brains are perfectly functional.
The disease spread like wildfire, affecting every race, the poor and the wealthy. It became the ultimate equalizer, affecting millions of people.
Ironically, it was when the current first lady succumbed to the disease that the government became very motivated to find a cure. Driven by her grief-stricken husband, who needed her to get better. And when none could be found, ways to give the patients quality of life. The disease was later known as Haden’s syndrome, named after her.
Treeps & Integrators
There were three major technologies that freed the Hadens. An advanced neural network that let them communicate with the outside world was developed. These later enabled the patients to control robots reminiscent of C3PO from Star Wars called treeps. Then the networks were placed in humans called integrators so that they can lease their bodies out to Hadens so the patients can experience the outside world with all the senses a human does – taste, feel, sound, and scent – as well as sight.
The Hadens even had a world that only they could access called the Agora. I imagine this to be like the Ready Player One virtual world where they can go to be alone in their own world or mingle with others like them. Here they are able to date, hang out, and be in relationships like healthy humans do.
Productive Members of Society
The tools developed for Haden patients have enabled them to be productive members of society. In fact, our protagonist is an FBI agent although he didn’t really need to work since his father is a very rich businessman and he probably has a trust fund. The story depicts other patients being doctors and programmers interacting with the world via treeps. They have overcome the lock in – except for the fact that there was still no actual cure for the disease.
Greed & A Target Market
When Scalzi’s antagonist turns out to be a Haden patient himself wanting to profit from the huge target market they presented, it reminded me that anyone can be corrupted. People will find a way to let their greed turn a technology that helps others into one they can do evil with. It’s a sad lesson, but very believable.
Good Over Evil
I’m glad Scalzi let the good Hadens win in this story. His future world was a kind of world I would like to live in – where people have overcome and mastered their disabilities. It would have been sad to have it controlled by an evil fiend.
Invest in this series. It has humor, advanced technology, diversity, and hope. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a solid science fiction adventure, especially those who are already fans of John Scalzi.