Saturday, September 20, 2014

What We’re Reading: New Science Fiction

Imagine, in the very near future, our world being hit with a medical pandemic unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent history. This influenza-like disease would spread through the world’s population disguised as a common flu. While the overall death toll from the disease would be more than 400 million, most would come through these common ailments unscathed. About four percent of sufferers would be affected with a second stage of meningitis-like inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Those affected by this stage of the disease would experience one of these possible outcomes: 1) death; 2) significant alterations to the structures of the brain or 3) the complete loss of any/all control of voluntary nervous systems. Those affected by #3 would be perfectly normal and healthy, but would not be able to communicate with the world outside of their own minds. This condition would come to be known as being “locked in.” Those who would be affected by this restriction would come to be known as Hadens (named after First Lady of the United States Margaret Haden, one of the earliest and most visible to be diagnosed with the condition). In the United States alone, there would be almost 4.5 million Hadens.

A medical crisis of this magnitude would have complex and varied repercussions on both global and individual levels. As these changes and challenges ripple through our world, priorities will be reevaluated and resources will be reallocated. Research and development will be thrown into high gear to assist Hadens. Discoveries will be made and instituted. One is the creation of a new virtual landscape in which Hadens can “live” and interact with each other and non-Hadens. Another is that those whose brains were altered by the disease but who suffered no other ill effects can, with some technological assistance, communicate with Hadens. They can even allow those who are locked in to use or inhabit their bodies. Those with this ability are known as “Integrators.” There are less than 100,000 Integrators worldwide.

Becoming and working as an Integrator is rapidly regulated and controlled. The possibility for misuse and abuse is inescapable. Certainly all the steps have been taken to prevent Hadens and/or Integrators from abusing this situation...

In Lock In, John Scalzi creates a terrifyingly real near future within which he can explore our current culture's attitudes about healthcare, politics, business, economics, technology, and social inequities. The Hadens who are the result of Scalzi’s global pandemic could easily stand in for any medically disabled group in our current world (if their numbers were high enough in population percentages), and it is interesting to see how Scalzi speculates about how our culture would respond to a new type of citizen created almost overnight by this pandemic.

By wrapping the story up in a crime investigation, Scalzi has allowed himself enough room to follow leads across the country and through different social and economic spheres. The result is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with a lot more to ponder at the end than the reveal of “whodunit.” The whys, the hows, the entire situation will resonate long after the mystery is solved.

No comments: