Review: Lock In

Series: Lock In: #1

Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.

Been a bit since I last read any Scalzi. I’m glad to get back around to it though. Lock In is very good.

In a nutshell, Lock In takes place in a near future Earth where a flu-like pandemic (Haden’s Syndrome) has caused locked-in syndrome in some small percent of the world’s population (a small percent of billions is still an awful lot of people). Those affected are completely paralyzed, unable to move, while still being fully aware and conscious.

Luckily(ish) a massive global effort has figured out how to embed computer hardware in their brains so as to allow them to remotely pilot either robotic bodies (threeps1) or (more rarely) other humans who’ve allowed them access2.

This of course is widely accepted by the rest of humanity and causes no issues whatsoever.


The plot follows Chris Shane, child of a powerful family as they start their first week as an FBI agent. And oh what a first week. Haden-related murder. Corporate and political shenanigans. Suspects who may have had their bodies hijacked. Jumping from threep to threep across the country.

It’s quite the ride and made all the better for digging into the ideas of what ‘my body’ even means3, how screwy and terrifying computer security can get when you literally have a computer in your brain, and how no matter how the world changes there are always going to be people that hate those that are different.

A good book.

Worth a read.


My notes as I read (spoilers):

“I used the wrong word, didn’t I,” Davidson said, looking at me. “I can never remember if ‘clank’ or ‘threep’ is the word I’m not supposed to be using today.”
Here’s a hint,” I said. “One comes from a beloved android character from one of the most popular films of all time. The other describes the sound of broken machinery. Guess which one we like better.”

Future racism!

And never really mentioned again.

“I’d guess that you’d have less-than-flattering ways of describing us,” Davidson said.
“‘Dodgers,’” I said.
“‘Dodgers,’” I repeated. “It’s short for ‘Dodger Dogs.’ It’s the hot dog they serve at Dodger Stadium in L.A.”
“I know what a Dodger Dog is,” Davidson said. “I don’t think I get how you get from us to them.”
“Two ways,” I said. “One, you guys are basically meat stuffed into skin. So are hot dogs. Two, hot dogs are mostly lips and assholes, and so are you guys.”

Delightful. If a bit convoluted.

And also never mentioned again.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not a hundred percent behind this theory here,” I said. “A priest can hear a confession from anyone, not just a Catholic, and a doctor can claim confidentiality from the second someone walks through the door. I think Schwartz is probably making the same claim here. Just because the dude’s a tourist doesn’t mean he’s not a client. He is. Just like someone who’s not a Catholic can still confess.”

Neat. Didn’t know that.

The photo of me handing a flower to the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica is regularly cited as one of the most famous photographs of the last half century—the image of a child-sized threep offering an Easter lily to the Bishop of Rome being an iconic juxtaposition of modern technology and traditional theology, one presenting a peace offering to the other, who is reaching out, smiling, to take it.

A visualizable visual. I like it.

“Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.’”

A lot of other things this would apply to.

What that liminal space is depends on who you are, and also the computing infrastructure you have to support it. It can be as simple as a house from a template, stored on a shared server—free “tract housing” supported by ads that presented themselves in picture frames, which computationally collapsed once the Haden went out the door—to immense, persistent worlds that grew and evolved while the very rich Hadens who were the worlds’ owners resided in floating palaces that hovered over their creations.

Ad supported virtual homes. Seems like a decent extrapolation.

I feel like this book could have used more time spent in these spaces.

“Second, they hire people like me to make sure it doesn’t happen. Half my contracts are for white-hat incursions, trying to get into the networks.” “And what do you do when you get in?” I asked.
“Me? I file a report,” Tony said. “With the first iteration of networks the hackers would run blackmail schemes. Fire up a series of gory pictures or put ‘It’s a Small World’ on a repeating loop until the victim paid to make it stop.”

Brain hacking. I love it. And it would definitely be a thing.

“Lots of different ways,” Tony said. “One of my favorites was the time I put a basket on a remote-controlled toy quadcopter, filled the basket with candy, and then flew the candy into the programmer wing of Santa Ana’s headquarters. The quadcopter went from pod to pod, and while the programmers were grabbing at candy, I was grabbing shots of their work screens. I got eight programmer hashes that day.”

That is a fun one. I wonder if its been done IRL yet.

  1. One comes from a beloved android character from one of the most popular films of all time. ↩︎

  2. Side note: I’m using this for my ‘Robot’ 2023 Book Bingo square. Chris isn’t a Robot, but Murderbot was clarified to count, thus (IMO) including cyborgs and given the nature of the story, I believe that Chris and other Haden’s that almost entirely use threeps should count. That’s an interesting conversation all it’s own! ↩︎

  3. If you give it a try; think back. Is Chris a man or a woman? Or a robot first? I love how Scalzi handled this. ↩︎