Saturday, February 27, 2016

What we're reading: Techno / Mystery

After hearing good things about it from various librarians (Daryl reviewed it on this blog when it first came out) and also having it proposed as a possible book to read for our 10-12 Book Club, I decided I had to pick up Lock In, by science fiction writer John Scalzi. It was my first book by this author, who is a favorite with several people I know, and the build-up was so big that I was afraid I'd be disappointed--but I wasn't. I loved it! It may be my first Scalzi book, but it definitely won't be my last.

The story is kind of hard to explain: There's this virus, which is called Haden's Syndrome (named after the First Lady, who was one of its sufferers), and it affects different people in different ways. Some get it and recover with not much more than chills, fever, and a headache. Some get it and recover but have certain alterations to the brain that give them abilities (more on that in a minute). But for the unlucky one percent (5 million in the United States), the virus causes a condition called "lock in." The person is still alive, fully aware, but locked in his or her brain with no ability to communicate, and the brain has ceased to be able to tell the body how to function. Basically, these people are immobile, and completely helpless.

Because some of the people who suffered this were so high profile, buckets of money were thrown at solving the various challenges to help these people. There are two solutions for them:

1. The people who recover but have "abilities" are called Integrators. They are able to let the locked-in people "borrow" their bodies. They are still fully aware, and are able to push the locked-in person's mind out again if they don't like the use to which their body is being put.

2. Sophisticated and versatile robots (called "threeps" after C3PO) are designed, and the locked-in people can project their minds into these robots, and therefore move around and interact in society as if they have a real body.

So--25 years later, now imagine someone is murdered, and you are the detective trying to solve the case. Who, exactly, committed the murderer? If the suspect is an Integrator, it could be that person... or it could be the person using that body at the time. If the murder was done by someone inhabiting a threep, who's to say who, exactly, that was? Two detectives--one a former Integrator, the other a Lock In riding a threep--are on the case, but it looks like it's going to be bigger than even they imagined.

In Daryl's review, he chose to accentuate the parallels Scalzi has drawn to situations, politics, and cultural mores in our world today, plus the inevitability of a pandemic and our response to it. And although I agree that the author was making some political and cultural observations and assertions, for me those just made great sci fi background. I found the book to be a delightful combination of sci fi / techno / mystery--it reminded me in some ways of Isaac Asimov's 'Lige Bailey and Daneel Olivaw murder mysteries (beginning with Caves of Steel, but fitting into his entire robot oeuvre), but younger, wittier--fresh. I loved the complexity created by people who could jump from threep to threep and thereby travel anywhere a threep was waiting for them, or Integrate to "ride" in someone else's head/body--it made it difficult to solve crime, that's for sure. (We should definitely read this for book club!)

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