Lock In by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton. ★★★★
In the near future, a highly contagious virus races across the globe. A fraction of those who survive experience “lock in” – they are completely paralyzed, unable to move their bodies at all, even though they suffer no mental impairment. Over twenty years later, the condition is known as “Haydon’s Syndrome” and the world has changed in its wake. The locked in communicate with the world through online spaces or robotic “threeps” which they can pilot around the physical world. Chris Shane was the poster child for Haydon’s Syndrom but is now trying to leave that life behind and become an FBI agent. The very first day on the job, Agent Shane and Agent Leslie Vann encounter a Haydon related murder that leads to something bigger than they ever could have imagined.
Lock In is a tightly woven science fiction mystery that brilliantly interweaves the plot with the worldbuilding Scalzi has created regarding Hayden’s syndrome. While the investigation is going on, a law has just been passed that slashes funding to Haydon’s medical care. Led by an activist named Cassandra Bell, many Haydons are planning a march on Washington in protest. Tensions are running high between Haydon’s and non-Haydons.
Both the idea and execution of Hayden’s syndrome were very well done. There’s a split in how the syndrome is viewed. Lots of those who are not locked in think of the Haydens as victims who need to be cured, whereas the Haydens themselves have begun to create their own culture and community. They do not see themselves as victims and view a “cure” as a threat to their identity and new community. The result is a fun science fiction crime novel that also manages to touch on issues of ability and disability.
There are actually two versions of the audio book available, one read by Wil Wheaton and one by Amber Benson. I went with the Wheaton version fairly arbitrarily. It wasn’t until after I started that I found out why there are two versions – the gender of the narrator is never specified. This makes a fair bit of sense given that Chris has been locked in since two years old and interacts with the world primarily in a robotic body.
I was happy with the version I listened to. The pacing was good, and Wheaton didn’t use any vocal effects or accents that annoyed me.
There also turned out to be a novella attached to the end of the audio book that explained the history of Hayden’s syndrome. Honestly, I could have done without it as it didn’t really add anything we didn’t already know.
Overall, I would recommend Locked In. It’s a fun science fiction crime thriller, but it also manages to do a bit more beyond simply entertain.