A review by Nalini Haynes
A flu epidemic sweeps the world. People die by the millions. Survivors are usually trapped within their own bodies, conscious but completely paralysed; this is known as lock in. This lock in phenomena becomes known as ‘Haden’s syndrome’ because US President Haden’s wife is a victim. The survivors are called ‘Hadens’.
Billions of dollars are poured into research to help the world recover from this pandemic, resulting in huge leaps forward in medical care and mobility options for survivors. Some mobility options are androids, called ‘threeps’ in memory of a beloved science fiction android. These ‘threeps’ are the new wheelchair, enabling Hadens to fully engage with the external world. (Yes, there are jokes about being fully functional.) A very small minority of humans called ‘integrators’ are able to share their consciousness with Hadens, giving them the full human experience at an exorbitant price.
Haden funding is being largely axed under the new administration. Hadens are protesting. Research and Development companies could be on the brink of disaster or breakthrough.
Agent Shane, a Haden, joins the FBI to a mixed response from his colleagues and the public. Disability discrimination battles it out with political correctness. On his second day on the job he meets his partner, Agent Vann, a former integrator with addiction issues. They’re assigned to a murder investigation.
A man is dead. An integrator was in the room.
What happens when an integrator commits a murder? Who is responsible, the integrator or the Haden? If a Haden did it, who was the Haden and what was the motive? Lock In is a whodunnit in the context of disability, corporate greed and a broader political landscape.
Some of the disability issues covered include the benefits of disability aids going mainstream, the varying reactions of ‘normal’ people to those with disabilities, general segregation and subordination of people with disabilities and more.
Scalzi discusses some of these issues in a heated political debate over a dinner hosted by Shane’s father, a former sports star with an interest in running for the senate. Guests include the integrator present at the murder and CEOs of two competing companies taking diverse approaches to supporting Hadens, their focus on profits their primary similarity.
With the broad scope of discussion I was disappointed that two key areas Scalzi omitted or glossed over were deprivation of people with disabilities due to financial disadvantage and abuse of the vulnerable. Cutting off funding for Hadens was causing people to downsize their lifestyles but what about disability discrimination resulting in unemployment and, hence, homelessness? What about forced prostitution due to financial insecurity?
It could be argued that abuse was covered by killing Hadens but discussions of ramifications of change should have included existence of and expected increases in violence, including sexual abuse and neglect, towards people who cannot afford to integrate with an android to protect themselves.
Maybe Scalzi’s intent was to keep the censor rating low but you don’t have to show the abuse when you’re already talking about ramifications of legislation. To be fair, disability and discrimination are hobby horses of mine. Scalzi’s done a great job; Lock In is the best discussion of disability in SFF I’ve read since Kit Whitfield’s Bareback.
Although I didn’t anticipate Lock In‘s specific details of the plot until later, very early on the motivation behind the anti-Haden activities was clear. One key plot-twist arrives with solving the mystery of the first death, leading to an elegant solution overall. Similarities with Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation abound in Lock In including sociology and political comment being elevated above character work. As an intelligent whodunnit coupled with an overview of disability discrimination from a White Male Privilege perspective with intent to genuinely engage with the issues, Lock In is a great read.
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
I received two review copies so I have included two publishers’ details below.
Publisher: Tor/Forge, Tor Books (Macmillan) in the US
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Gollancz (Hachette) in Australia
Page count: 352