An intriguing hybrid of Asimovian I, Robot-flavored sci-fi, the quasi-contemporary speculative fiction of William Gibson and the enjoyable detective/crime procedural work of . . . well, countless writers, John Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In, interweaves the threads of a number of familiar genre conventions to impressive effect.

Exhibit one: the society-threatening plague—in this case, a highly contagious virus called Haden’s Syndrome that has left millions “locked in,” fully conscious but incapable of any movement or response to stimulus. Then there’s the allusion to the well-trod sci-fi terrain of A.I. and androids: The plight of the locked-in has led to the creation of embedded neural nets and Personal Transports (dubbed “threeps,” after a certain golden robot of the silver screen). Finally, Scalzi brings it all together in that most fleet and engaging of forms: the whodunit.

Lock In introduces readers to FBI agents Chris Shane (a Haden) and Leslie Vann as they arrive at a crime scene. The victim lies dead in a room, and the chief suspect is the Integrator in the room with him. (Integrators have the ability to allow Hadens to experience physical sensations.) From there, things get complicated in all the ways one wants detective fiction to get complicated.

Through it all, the Hugo Award-winning Scalzi shows that being a master storyteller isn’t so much about finding new ingredients as it is about combining old standards in ways that are fresh and engaging. But here Scalzi does both, and his novel twist on robot lit alone would make Lock In worth the read.

Scalzi’s world-building is deceptively simple, accomplished while keeping the reader fully enmeshed in the murder mystery that propels the story. Ultimately, the Hadens and Integrators of Lock In each may be as fanciful a construct as the more standard sci-fi fare of androids and aliens. But thanks to Scalzi’s talent, it certainly doesn’t seem that way.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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