Hannah’s Novel Notions: A Review of Lock In by John Scalzi

Hannah's Novel Notions: A Review of Lock In by John Scalzi

I go to tHannah's Novel Notions: A Review of Lock In by John Scalzihe library every Tuesday and walk out with an armful of about 5 or 6 books. I always place these books on hold way before I go to pick them up. Often, this means that when I pick up my weekly haul, I don’t recognize some of the novels and am not really sure what they’re about or even why I wanted to read them.
Such was the case with Lock In by John Scalzi. I picked it up, stared at it blankly, trying to remember where I’d heard of it or how I’d decided that it was something I wanted to read.

Rather than reading the jacket blurb, I decided to just dive right in. About 5 pages in I remembered why it had appealed to me when I first placed it on hold. The main character is disable. It is set in the future. AND it’s a mystery thriller.

As it turns out, Past Me has really good taste in books. My present self thanks me for deciding to read a book that I can share with you all. Okay, that sentence was less confused in my head. On to the review:

In the near future, a virus has spiraled out of control and spread all across the globe. Some recover from it without issue. Some experience “lock in,” a progression of the virus that effectively paralyzes a person while allowing their mind to still function. This is known as Haden’s syndrome, and the entire world has built an economic infrastructure to accommodate these people. Hadens (those who experience lock in) are now able to project their consciousness into “threeps,” robot-like transportations that allow them to work in the physical world.

Hadens can also integrate with those who have special brain structures. This makes it possible for a Haden to temporarily use an integrator’s body.

Of course, this ability to integrate can cause some major problems. Rookie FBI agent Shane  learns this first hand. Shane and his veteran partner Vann are assigned to unravel the mystery of a Haden-related murder. The suspect is an integrator, which complicates matters, because if the integrator was carrying a Haden client, then who actually committed the murder?

As they delve deeper into the investigation, they realize that the problem is far more complicated than that. With cut backs on government support for Hadens, the world for this entire subculture is changing. Somebody seems to be in the position to make a lot of money, and that person doesn’t seem to be afraid of leaving a trail of dead bodies behind in order to get what he or she wants.

The entire concept for this book was extremely interesting. The idea of a world where many are living in a virtual world or having to project themselves into the physical realm through living in robots is intriguing. Scalzi did a good job of projecting the fear and confusion that normal people feel towards Hadens. This was done mostly through Shane, one of the few Hadens who is able to obtain a job in the FBI, which mostly employs non-Hadens.

A threep. AKA: robot.
A threep. AKA: robot.

The technology was also fascinating. It was clear that a lot of thought went into the world-building. Scalzi looked at how a disease like this would affect all aspects of the world: economical, political, social, and technological.

That being said, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of character development. Here we have a main character who is restricted to using a robot to maneuver through life. He comes up against a lot of bigotry and he has to deal with constantly being in the spot light because his father is a big politician. That’s the perfect set up for a complex, deep character.

And yet, somehow, Shane came across as one-dimensional. I was not invested in his character at all. The same goes for all surrounding characters. I’m not sure what happened in the character development stage, but what ever it was must have been horrible.

While we’re on the topic of characters, I have to mention this: The amount of cussing in this story was not handled as well as it could have been. Vann curses quite a bit, and that matches her gruff, self-destructive personality perfectly.

But all of the other characters who kept randomly cussing? It felt like Scalzi was using foul language to try to convey their emotions rather than putting some extra effort into using facial expressions, body movements, or non-profane dialogue to convey feeling. Rarely a good move. He nailed it with Vann, but it didn’t fit the other characters. Good effort, though.

That being said, this story did not feel like it was aiming for a character-driven plot. It was a thriller mystery, sweet and simple. Action packed, well-paced, and several good plot twists, I think it delivered the thriller mystery vibe very well. Scalzi is an excellent writer, so I never found myself bored. I just wanted to keep reading.

So while I was disappointed at the lack of character depth, I still really enjoyed reading this novel. I guess this is one of those stories where you understand that it is flawed, but don’t really care because it’s still fun to read.

Apparently Legendary TV felt the same way, as they bought the rights to this book back in 2014.


They have plans to develop it into a TV series. Because of all of the interesting ethical  and philosophical issues that Lock In poses (not to mention the cool technology), it does lend itself to a series. I would certainly tune in. However, this deal was made a while ago and there doesn’t seem to have been any movement since then, but I’m still hoping.

Have you read Lock In  or anything else by John Scalzi? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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