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Lock In    by John Scalzi order for
Lock In
by John Scalzi
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2014)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Here's something different from John Scalzi (author of the wonderful Old Man's War series and the hilarious Redshirts) - his Lock In is a combination of near future technothriller and murder mystery, with a unique and very engaging lead.

Rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is one of those locked in to their bodies (suffering 'complete paralysis of the voluntary nervous system') by a pandemic, but able through technology to interact with both a virtual Agora and (through robotic bodies, Personal Transports) the real one. More than four hundred million died, others suffered Haden's Syndrome (lock in) and a smaller number were left with brain changes that allowed them to become Integrators. The latter were able to allow the locked in the temporary use of their bodies, for a fee.

As the novel opens, there is widespread controversy over a new bill 'to cut subsidies and programs for Hadens', leading to marches and protests across the country. Our hero, Chris Shane, who comes from a wealthy political family, has just started his job with the FBI. He is partnered with Agent Vann, who was an Integrator before she joined the Bureau. They head to the scene of a murder, where Integrator Nicholas Bell was found beside the corpse - his sister Cassandra is a charismatic Haden activist leader. Bell claims Integrator-client privilege.

More violence follows - a pharmaceutical lab campus is blown up, killing six janitorial staff. A researcher claims credit before committing suicide. And they learn the identity of the original victim - Johnny Sani, a simple minded Navajo with an unusual artificial neural network in his brain. He had recently been hired by a mysterious organization as an executive assistant. It's a complex puzzle but Chris worries at it with help from his partner and a new set of roommates, one of them a brilliant software consultant.

Though Chris mostly interacts in a Personal Transport, his real body is vulnerable, and he and those close to him are endangered. He also uses up quite a few Personal Transports during his investigation. Of course he and Vann do nail the villain in the end. Lock In is a masterfully engineered murder mystery, set in a well realized near future society, and peopled with characters who step off the pages to speak their lines. Another Scalzi winner!

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