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Lockstep    by Karl Schroeder order for
by Karl Schroeder
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal is the eldest son of a family that left Earth in search of a better life, laying claim to and colonizing the dwarf planet Sedna. After Toby's younger brother Peter was traumatized by a kidnapping and murder, Toby tried to help him by creating a virtual gameworld, Consensus, where Peter would feel control and Toby could teach him life lessons. Toby also has a younger sister, Evayne. Their mother invented 'deep-dive hibernation'.

Toby is on a family mission to lay claim to Rockette, one of Sedna's moons, when all goes awry. He wakes up from cold sleep fourteen thousand years later, after being rescued and taken to Lowdown. He finds himself in a new universe ruled by the Lockstep Empire, which he gradually realizes bears striking resemblances to the virtual world he created for his brother Peter. Slowly he learns that his family founded the Empire and his brother Peter and sister Evayne rule it - his mother apparently waits for his return in cold sleep.

Citizens of the seventy thousand planets of the Lockstep Empire spend thirty years at a time in hibernation, allowing for the husbanding of planetary resources, and for efficient travel and commerce between distant stars. Citizens are all awakened for a month at a time. Worlds are essentially 'switching themselves on and off like lights'. McGonigal DNA contols the empire's hibernation cycles. And Toby, if he reveals himself, would be hailed as the Emperor of Time.

After discovering that Peter ordered his execution and that his rescuers plan to neuroshackle and use him, Toby flees with the help of a group of young rebels. The girl, Corva, who first made contact with him, also supplies him with a golden-eyed denner (he names it Orpheus), genetically engineered to keep humans alive through hibernation. These rebels live the vagabond life, travelling across space illegally. They want Toby to help free the worlds from his brother's dictatorship.

Of course he does so, and the journey is a thrilling one, filled with action, captures and escapes, betrayal, friendship and young love. But what makes this story so well worth reading is the unique lockstep concept, and all the details of how this universe works that Karl Schroeder masterfully outlines. Though Lockstep is aimed at the YA market, all its imaginative future science makes it of equal interest to adult SF readers. Don't miss it!

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