Lock In has an interesting premise – in the near future, a new virus sweeps across the globe. For most people, this results in flu-like symptoms. However, for approx. 1% of the population, it results in ‘lock in’. The individual is left completely aware, but is unable to move in any way. The ongoing disabilities caused by the virus become known as Haden’s syndrome.
A much smaller number are affected by the virus, but are not left incapacitated. Changes to their brain structure mean that they are able (with a little technological help) to volunteer their bodies to those that have been locked in – much like you might let someone borrow your car, but far more intimate. These go on to be called Integrators.
This concept opens up the possibility that a crime committed by an individual may actually have been done while the body was inhabited by someone completely different, and this is the premise of Lock In.
The novel itself is set some 25 years after the first outbreaks of the virus. Technological advancements mean that locked in individuals can take control of robots (as well as borrowing the body of an integrator). With these robots, they can move, work and interact with the world in the ways that we understand, but only their mind is actually present – their remains safely tucked away elsewhere.
The story is cross over between police procedural and science fiction. I think that it failed on both counts. The science wasn’t very well explained – some significant technological leaps are made in a relatively short period of time, and it wasn’t all that clear how the locked in are able to use robots and integrators. I’m not a fan of what I refer to as ‘hard’ science fiction – I often don’t get it. But this was different, here I felt that I didn’t get it because it wasn’t explained, and not because I just didn’t understand it.
And the so-called investigation was farcical, and not in a good way. A string of coincidences rather than any sleuthing gets to the eventual result.
There were a couple of nice ideas in the book – the robots that the locked in use to move around in are affectionately referred to as threeps after “a beloved android character from one of the most popular films of all time” (1), for example. But, the characters were one-dimensional and stereotypical, and the conversation was stilted.
In summary, I liked the idea behind this novel, but felt that it was poorly executed.
(1) John Scalzi. 2014. Lock In. Tor.