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Lock In #2

Head On

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"As much as Scalzi has the scientific creativity of a Michael Crichton, he also has the procedural chops of a Stephen J. Canell to craft a whodunit with buddy-cop charm and suspects aplenty—most of them in someone else's body." — USA Today

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In . Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

328 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 17, 2018

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About the author

John Scalzi

148 books22k followers
John Scalzi, having declared his absolute boredom with biographies, disappeared in a puff of glitter and lilac scent.

(If you want to contact John, using the mail function here is a really bad way to do it. Go to his site and use the contact information you find there.)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,046 reviews
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,837 followers
October 10, 2018
An enjoyable sequel to Lock In! 4.5 stars!

I am a big fan of the world Scalzi has created. The science of the threeps, Hadens, and how that can all play into a mystery are very fascinating. I think that this book would be accessible to both mystery and sci-fi fans alike – it is just a bonus when you are a fan of both.

Also, I have to say that I think I liked this better than Lock In. That is likely due to one of the two following reasons (or both)

1. Getting used to a new world with the first book may have been a bit tough and possibly lessened my enjoyment a bit. Now that I know how it all works, it was a lot easier to jump right into the story.
2. Since this is the author’s second mystery in this world, he may have done a better job of writing a story in it so it came off more comfortable and better overall.

I am hoping that Scalzi continues writing mysteries in this world. It is fun and unique – he has a lot of things he can play around with that are not available in conventional mysteries. As long as he does keep writing them, I will keep coming back for more.

Note: the oddest coincidence! I just finished Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente this morning. I had never heard of Valente before Space Opera. At one point in this point in Head On, a character picks up a book by Valente and mentions it is very good. It doesn’t mention the title, but it is weird that she would come up right after I finish one of her books!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
July 23, 2020
This was actually only the second book that I ever listened to on audio without first reading it with my actual eyeballs, so my experience with it is entirely auditory. I guess it’s like having a bedtime story read to you - except by Wil Wheaton. Wil Wheaton is awesome. Did I mention I love Wil Wheaton? Is there a Wil Wheaton fan club I can join?

Ahem, anyway, moving on. < /fangirling >
This is the next step in the adventures of Chris Shane, an FBI agent, a trust fund kid and a Haden. Haden, of course, being a human locked-in his body as a result of contracting a “Haden” virus, fully conscious and integrated in the society via physical interaction via a mechanical “threep” body (robotic body, think C3PO) when not inhabiting their virtual environment, the Agora. (Confused? See Scalzi’s awesome first book in this series, Lock In, for details). The world (a few decades in the future from our own, post-pandemic) that has non-Haden and Haden humans has recently passed a law that stripped Hadens from the extra protections and subsidies they, as victims of a terrifying pandemic, had enjoyed up until then. Chris, being a real estate tycoon’s/former NBA star’s only child, is relatively sheltered from the consequences, but sees the issues nonetheless.
“Apparently a ‘go-getter.’”
“What does that mean?”
“I think it means he was an asshole, just an enthusiastic one who did his job and got things done.”

Chris Shane and his FBI partner glass-half-empty awesomely-grumpy Leslie Vann investigate a death of a player in a new sport - Hilketa, a Haden (for now) sport played only in threeps (can’t use human bodies given that decapitation on this game is a feature, not a bug¹). And of course, the murder investigation uncovers a whole lot of shady stuff pointing at the sports league and major companies, and vast amounts of potential illegal ways to make a buck or a billion. All told in Shane’s / Scalzi’s trademark snarky sarcastic clever engaging voice that subtly tackles problematic issues while camouflaging it as sheer nerdy fun.
¹ “That threep’s the goat. That’s the player the other team wants to rip the head off of. They try to take his head, while his team tries to keep him from having his head ripped off.”
“And when the head is taken, they try to punt it through the goalposts.”
“Punt it, toss it, or carry it through, yes.”
“And everyone has swords and hammers and bats—”
“They have those because that shit’s just fun.”
It’s an interesting police procedural set in a fascinating world. It’s sufficiently lighthearted until you start thinking about the issues affecting Hadens and the implications of laws in that universe, and - of course - a bunch of parallels they are supposed to invoke. And yes, once you start thinking of the details - the mistrust, the financial and societal repercussions, the corporate greed, the shady deals, the people stuck between the rock and the hard place, the difficulties and perils facing the need for inclusion and integration - yeah, it’s easy to start feeling quite angry. It got me thinking about what constitutes disability, and how disabilities are viewed, and the grey zones that inevitably arise, and what acceptance and integration and inclusion even means.
“They didn’t mean any harm in it. But of course not meaning harm isn’t the same as not doing harm.”

But it’s also just so much fun! It has the wonderful dynamic and the staple awesome banter between the detectives on the case, with friendship and trust that comes from having each other’s backs. It has hilarious one-liners and running gags (Chris always wrecking his threeps immediately comes to mind).
"I did not destroy another threep,” I said. “A car did.”
"You got hit by a car.”
“So, once for the experience and twice to be sure?” Tony asked. “Hey, weren’t you hit by a car when you were a kid?”
“It was a truck.”
“Same concept. Three times is a fetish, Chris,” Tony said. “Which is your business. But it gets pretty pricey. You might want to take up a less expensive hobby, like cocaine.”

It has potential to be read as a standalone, but I’d advise against it. The first in the series, Lock In, does an excellent job setting up the world, the characters, and the issues that Hadens face, and without it I don’t think you’d get as much enjoyment out if this one.

Anyway, I loved it. Scalzi’s brand of humor just overlaps with mine so much that these books feel like special treats just for me. It helped with the hardest few days of post surgical recovery better than painkillers (although laughing was physically painful, I must admit). Plus, Wil Wheaton!

Easy 4 stars.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,535 reviews32.6k followers
June 4, 2018
i went into this remembering next to nothing about what happened in the first book (didnt feel like a reread) - i only vaguely remembered that some people have robot bodies. lol. but thank goodness this acts as a standalone or else i would have been so lost! and for a book about a sport where the goal is to decapitate people, i was expecting this to have been a little more brutal, but the main focus was definitely on the police investigation (and i wasnt too bothered by that). this was your typical crime mystery with a cool sci-fi environment which made me question what i know about human rights and morals. it had its ups and downs, but it was a pretty decent story, overall!

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,608 reviews1,481 followers
December 19, 2018
This review was originally posted on Books of My Heart

Lock In was one of my favorite Sci-Fi worlds ever.  I really appreciated all the thought John Scalzi put into how life would be different if the person you presented to the outside world was basically a robot.  The prequel Unlocked (which should actually be read after Lock In) was fantastic, as it was presented as a documentary on how 1% of the population ended up being locked in their minds, not able to move and how all the science was done to create a way for them to get back out into the world.  I actually liked the prequel more than the first book in the Lock In series.

What Head On has over Lock In is a better detective story to accompany all the very cool stuff happening in the SciFi world.  This book will be a little different. For instance, we have zero idea if the Main Character Chris is a boy or a girl, even the audiobooks have two different narrator options one male and one female.  Since everyone interacts with Chris either in virtual space or a robot system you really don’t get normal gender clues. I really like that Chris is essentially genderless by today’s standards.

Chris and his/her partner Vann are FBI agents normally tasked with crimes involving Hadens (members of society who are locked in their bodies and interact with the world virtually or with a robot they pilot).   When there is death of a Haden player at a Hilketa match, Chris and Vann are the natural team to call in for the investigation. How does the beheading of a piloted robot lead to the death of the pilot who is states away?
“That threep’s the goat. That’s the player the other team wants to rip the head off of. They try to take his head, while his team tries to keep him from having his head ripped off.”
“And when the head is taken, they try to punt it through the goalposts.”
“Punt it, toss it, or carry it through, yes.”
“And everyone has swords and hammers and bats—”
“They have those because that shit’s just fun.”

The mystery plot for Head On worked for me a lot better and seemed more planned and polished.  Chris and Vann have a fun banter between them that makes the dialogue fun and easy to read. I also like that both Chris and Vann are not flat characters but have a good dimensionality to them making them more human.   But the real winner for me, at least in this series, is the world. I really get caught up in what it would be like to live in a world that has C-3POesk robot walking down the street being piloted by a person who can’t move and could be anywhere.
"I did not destroy another threep,” I said. “A car did.”
"You got hit by a car.”
“So, once for the experience and twice to be sure?” Tony asked. “Hey, weren’t you hit by a car when you were a kid?”
“It was a truck.”
“Same concept. Three times is a fetish, Chris,” Tony said. “Which is your business. But it gets pretty pricey. You might want to take up a less expensive hobby, like cocaine.”

So if you are a fan of cool, fleshed out SciFi worlds and also like murder mysteries then the Lock In series could really be something to put on your TBR list.  Wil Wheaton is the male narrator and I thought he did a fantastic job on Lock In if you are a fan of audio.

I received this book for free from NetGalley for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,977 followers
April 7, 2018
This is a super easy read that hits all the fun spots for all you folks who're into Sports, Mysteries, and great concept SF filled with robots designed for tele-reality and virtual reality.

I'm one of those readers who are very partial to the SF stuff and I like a good mystery, too, so I had a great time on that alone. But here's the funny part: the sports aspect is unique as hell and full of some great twists. :) Such as getting your head pulled off during the play to be used as a football. As part of the game. :)

Those people from the previous book, the folks who're stuck in their bodies and can only get out by using a waldo-robot or by those biological peeps who are wired for it are now pretty much the only game in town when it comes to full contact sports. It's all robots, of course, and transferred consciousnesses, and a wild story that's the equal of any modern mystery in that OTHER genre. :)

In a lot of ways, I think this sequel featuring our favorite FBI Lock-In is superior to the first. :)

I'm totally glad to have read it. It's just plain good and fun. :)
Profile Image for Jilly.
1,838 reviews6,164 followers
May 16, 2018
*Shakes Fist at John Scalzi!!!*

Damn you, Scalzi! We still don't know if Chris is a male or female. You just like mind-fucking us don't you?

Come on!!
Now who's messing with us? VEGAN cookies? Eww... no thanks, I'll have crab juice instead.

Chris is out narrator and he/she is in the FBI, and look, I'm just going to assign Chris a gender right now because I'm not writing out he/she for every stupid thing I say. Chris is a girl. I've declared it because:

1. I want Chris to be a girl because she's so freaking cool and snarky.

2. Chris mentions a book that was one of her favorites as a child by author Catherynne Valente and I looked her up.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

is a series. Seems like something girls would love.

3. In the first book, when her partner saw Chris's actual body, she said that she was surprised. I think she had been assuming Chris was a male.

4. Did I mention that Chris is too cool to be a boy? She's one of us.

So, problem solved. You might as well write it in now, Scalzi. No, I'm serious. Get on this. You're riding my last nerve here.

Chris's partner, Leslie, is also very cool. In good cop-bad cop, she's always bad cop. She just does it so well.

The crime they are trying to solve has to do with a death during a game that is basically robot wars. Robots trying to rip off each other's heads to use as a ball. Strangely, this doesn't even seem silly or crazy anymore. We all know that if we get robot bodies - this will become a sport. Really, how many years away can this be? Scalzi is a genius!

hey wait...it's been done. Screw you, Scalzi!!

There is tons of humor and fun while they try and solve the crime. Plus, as an added bonus, more people and robots die. This series is a must for sci-fi fans. You will like it almost as much as you like goateed Mr. Spock.

Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews187 followers
May 7, 2018
At some point in the future – when early 21st century media culture is assessed in all its heedless glory – a full audit of the blogger/novelist phenomenon will come to pass, and John Scalzi will likely be held as one of its most successful and admired specimens. By blogger/novelist I don’t mean “novelist who blogs”, or blogger who turns their blog into a book, but of a specific mutant hybrid of both mediums. Scalzi has transposed all the elements of a thriving blog into his fiction writing career: a prolific output that needs to be both urgent and memorable, that feels like a product of the present-day culture’s collective consciousness as much as a piece of his own brain spilling out onto page and screen. A unique biochemical cocktail is required for a brain like this to squirm its way into the marketplace of ideas, a kind of ego-driven charisma that relies far more on generosity than selfishness, but also acknowledges that a healthy dallop of self-centeredness is an essential part of the formula. There’s a moment in his new novel, the near-future crime thriller Head On, when FBI agent Chris Shane takes a “classic” Catherynne Valente novel from a suspect’s bookshelf during an interrogation, and both interviewer and interviewee awkwardly profess their love for it before moving on to the business at hand. Shout-outs to friends and colleagues are a staple of Scalzi the blogger and Scalzi the novelist, a show of warm-hearted regard that accedes not only to an author’s place in the production of a text, but to this author’s in particular. It’s not just a shout-out to Valente as a fellow traveler, but to Scalzi’s own devoted fan base, who know that moments like these express why he loves doing what he does.
Head On is the standalone sequel to Lock In, Scalzi’s popular and well-regarded technothriller from 2014. Lock In set up a near-future scenario where a small but significant percentage of the population is afflicted with Haden’s syndrome, which leaves its victims with fully active brains literally locked inside their completely inert bodies. Public accommodations for this new class of persons with disabilities ensue, resulting in, alongside other technological advances, robotic vehicles called “threeps” that a Haden can operate remotely using a neural net attached to their brains. Threeps allow Hadens to live relatively normal professional and social lives while their bodies remain stationary. Lock In introduced us to Haden FBI agent Chris Shane and his partner, non-Haden Leslie Vann, as they investigated a murder committed using Haden-based technology. In Head On, Scalzi explores the way Hadens culture leaves its mark on mass entertainment – in this case a professional sports league called Hilketa, where Hadens pilot their threeps in a game where scoring depends on forcibly removing the (robot) head of an opposing player. At the opening of Head On, a player’s real body dies as its threep’s head is removed, and suspicious activity by the league’s front office points to a coverup. Shane and Vann once again become enmeshed in a high-profile case with huge stakes, big money interests, and intense media scrutiny.
I’ve always felt that Scalzi writes fiction with a journalist’s flair for delivering information in accessible, controlled bursts. The overture to Head On comes in the form of a magazine (or probably webzine) article, a very convincing bit of faux sports reporting for Scalzi’s imaginary Hilketa league that effortlessly manages to pulls off the holy grail of genre writing: the invisible info-dump – a way of setting the table for the estranged reader in a way that would feel organic to a familiar one. It’s an effective tone-setter that plays on Scalzi’s strengths as a writer – his ability to write science fiction that appeals to SF fans without alienating non-SF readers. Scalzi can sometimes be overly meticulous in designing his plots, so part of the fun of Head On comes when you realize that his protagonist shares his creator’s passion for methodical professionalism, but his enemy is more likely akin to a belligerent fool who let one bad idea spiral dangerously out of control. A snapshot of the present moment in America, if there ever was one.
In many ways, Head On and its predecessor feel closer to the Scalzi of internet lore than his space operas do. POV narrator Shane disseminates his tale in the same easygoing, smart and snarky manner that Scalzi the blogger is known for, and while one could say the same of his other protagonists, only Shane gets to do so in a milieu that roughly approximates present day America. Because as much as Scalzi likes to make up cool stuff about things that might happen someday, he also likes to say witty things about stuff that’s going on right now, and in Head On he gets to do both in the kind of quick, digestible bites that fire up the neurons without weighing the reader down. In other words, Head On is about issues that matter to readers’ lives today, told with characters who pilot anthropomorphic robot suits. Add to this the fact that he is doing so in the form of the invincibly popular crime thriller and that the deciding agent of the story is a cat named Donut, and you know you are dealing with an author who sucks up to his readers in all the right ways.
As much as I find Scalzi’s writing consistently entertaining, I’m actually surprised at how much I liked Head On. Lock In has the distinction of being my least favorite of Scalzi’s novels; I can say with confidence, however, that Head On won me over without diverging much from the formula its predecessor established. Fans and skeptics alike should be satisfied by the time they reach the final page.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the folks at Tor Books for the opportunity to read this ARC.
Profile Image for Mike.
483 reviews376 followers
September 30, 2020
Review for Lock In.

Scalzi continues the great momentum he built up in Lock In with this excellent sequel. Once again the daring duo of Chris (of the indeterminate gender) and Van find themselves involved in a complex investigation that intersects with the Haden community. In this case Hilketa, a sport that combines football with gladiatorial combat and robot bodies. Of course all is not as it appears, billions of dollars in investments are at risk, and death is always just around the corner.

As far as the mystery goes Scalzi once again delivers a twisty-turny case that meshes very well with the wider plot and makes good use of the world he has conjured up. I don't want to get too deep into it, sufficed to say I had no idea what the conspiracy was until the very end and I was engaged in the story the whole time. All the characters are great and jive well together. I continue to love the Van-Chris partnership. I am happy to see there is not a whiff of sexual tension there, they are both dedicated investigators who work well together and respect each other. For my money they are the best investigative duo in the SFF space.

But what I would rather talk about is how Scalzi uses the fictional medical condition in this series to explore broader social ideas. I have always maintained that good science fiction is a reflection on contemporary society, either how it is or how it could be. In the case of this series Scalzi examines just what it means to be an outsider of society. People suffering from Haden's Syndrome are physically separated from the rest of humanity, forced to interact through an online space or through robots (threeps). They are very much separate from the rest of humanity and rightly view themselves as a distinct minority group, even if their numbers span the spectrum of humanity.

That is what makes Hilketa so interesting. It is a respected space where Haden's actually have an advantage over the rest of humanity. Because they have spend so much of their lives interacting through Threeps they are much, much better suited to navigating them in a competitive environment even if, in theory, the league is open to everyone. It is a mark of pride for the community so when one of the players dies on the field it is a big deal.

On top of that the previous book saw the repeal of many support programs and funding for Hadens. We see early impact of this repeal in Head On. Hadens will find it more difficult to afford threeps and be forced more and more to the fringes of society. Even with Hilketa and prominent Hadens like Chris they rightly fear they will become another marginalized group. Compounded with the seemingly inevitable trend that would allow normal humans to also operate threeps and the Haden community in this book feels very much under siege.

And I found that interesting. Scalzi didn't just make the disease and its effects as a convenient means of forcing Chris to drive a threep and thereby distinguishing him/her from other similar characters. Scalzi extrapolated just how such a community would behave and how society to adjust to their existence. That exploration feeds into the stories and gives the world a very deep feel. Slap on some of that trademarked Scalzi snark and you get a really fun, engaging, and surprisingly insightful sci-fi mystery.

If you wanted to know about Hilketa (the fictional game from this book) here you go, courtesy of Tor.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
November 19, 2021
4.5 stars. This is really a pretty great SF detective murder mystery, with an original near-future setting and an interestingly convoluted plot that (despite some initial doubts I had), worked out to a very satisfying ending. A worldwide pandemic has killed many and left a significant number of the survivors completely physically disabled. These Haden’s Syndrome survivors can mentally control robots (called “threeps” after C3P0) using an implanted neural net.

A new arena game called Hilketa — in which Haden-controlled threeps tear the head off of a threep on the other team and score a goal with it — has become popular. It’s satisfyingly violent but nobody actually gets hurt. Until people mysteriously start dying. A pair of FBI agents, one of them a Haden named Chris from a very wealthy family, investigates along with their partner, a bulldog of a detective named Leslie Vann.

You could read Head On standalone, but for better context and to get to know the main characters, I recommend starting with the prequel novelette Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome (which is free online at Tor.com) and/or the first book, Lock In, if possible.
Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,608 reviews1,481 followers
April 20, 2018
A Solid 4 Star Read

In a world where 1% of the population interacts with the rest of the world in something akin to C-3PO this was a game that was bound to be invented.
The reason Hilketa is so popular is that the players score points through simulated decapitation, and go after each other with melee weapons. It’s team gladiatorial combat, on a football field, with a nerdy scoring system. It’s all the violence every other team sport wishes it could have, but can’t, because people would actually die.


I'd totally watch this sport if I lived in this world.

Full review to come.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
April 23, 2018
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/04/23/...

I’m a huge fan of John Scalzi, having read almost all his novels, and when Lock In came out a few years ago it quickly became one of my favorite books by the author. It was therefore with great excitement that I picked up Head On, which is described as its standalone sequel. And indeed, you may choose to read this without having read the first book, but personally I feel you will be missing out on the subtler nuances of the series if you skipped right to this one. The world of Lock In and Head On is a very complex place and, as I will explain later in my review, reading both books will give you a fuller view of the picture.

Once more, readers follow Chris Shane, the series’ rookie FBI agent protagonist. Chris is also a Haden, the name given to those individuals whose minds are “locked in” as the result of a devastating flu that swept across the globe several decades ago. This disease killed many in the first stage of the infection, but a percentage went on to survive only to suffer acute meningitis, which affected the victim’s brain and caused them to become trapped in a state of being fully awake and aware but having no control over their voluntary nervous systems. A cure for this condition (dubbed Haden’s Syndrome after the then president’s wife who was the most famous person to be affected at the time) was given the highest priority, though none was ever found. Instead, scientists created humanoid personal transports called “Threeps” into which locked in individuals were able to link their minds remotely, allowing them to interact with their world even as their physical bodies remained immobile.

By the time this series takes place, personal transport technology has become much more developed and advanced. It has even permeated into the world of professional sports, in which Hadens pilot specialized Threeps in a fast and furious game known as Hilketa. Though the sport itself is extremely violent, involving the lopping off of heads with swords and war hammers, no one technically gets hurt because the only “bodies” getting battered and broken on the field are the robot-like Threeps. However, during a high-profile special exhibition game, an up-and-coming player named Duane Chapman suddenly dies in the middle of a match meant to attract new investors to the North American Hilketa League, his vitals disappearing off the boards for all to see. NAHL officials are quick to cover up the incident, leading Chris, who was present in the skybox during the fatal match, to suspect there’s more to Chapman’s death than meets the eye.

Like its predecessor, Head On reads like a sci-fi mystery thriller, following FBI agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann as they sniff out clues and hunt down the perpetrators in Haden-related crimes. But unlike the previous installment, it dispenses with much of the social commentary and focus on topical themes, putting the emphasis on investigative procedures the actual crime solving. Happily, the culprit also wasn’t as obvious this time compared to Lock In. As a result, I felt that this sequel was more exciting in terms of pacing and levels of suspense, especially since the trail to find Duane Chapman’s murderer subsequently leads Chris to all kinds of strange personalities and bizarre happenings related to the dark underbelly of the Hilketa industry. Uncovering everything from backroom deals to sordid affairs, our protagonist winds up being caught up in series of harrowing events that include arson, assassination, and a whole pile of destroyed Threeps. Needless to say, this novel ended up being a very quick read, since all that intensity and action made it hard to put down.

That said, the book also lost much of its cerebral and philosophical bite due to the diminished exploration into social themes like disability, ethics in medicine, and other discussion-worthy subjects related to a world in which a significant percentage of the population suffer from an expensive and life-altering condition. While Head On lightly touches upon some of these issues, such as government funding for individuals with Haden Syndrome or the social perceptions of them in public, in this particular arena, Lock In still holds the edge. This isn’t really a dig at Head On, however; after all, you can only expound upon these themes beyond the first book to a certain extent before it starts becoming repetitive. As such, this is why I think it would be a good idea to read the two books in order; you’ll get the insightful commentary in the first one and the action and suspense in the second—the best of both worlds.

Head On, though, is still in every sense a Scalzi novel. It has his signature style all over it: in the clever premise, the slick sense of humor, the quippy lines of dialogue. It’s also interesting to note, while the author is careful not to reveal the gender of the series protagonist, in my mind I still picture Chris Shane as male because Scalzi can’t ever seem to write a convincing enough female POV (see examples Zoe’s Tale or The Sagan Diary). However, that’s just my personal opinion and ultimately a non-issue, since it didn’t distract or take away from my overall enjoyment of this particular novel, whose pages I devoured while loving every moment of the story.

In the end, I think I enjoyed this book just as much as Lock In, even though its tone may have shifted slightly more to a traditional mystery thriller narrative—which can be a good thing, depending on the type of reader you are. For me, Scalzi’s stories are always a delight because of how clever, witty, and approachable they are, and this one was no exception. I had a smashing good time with Head On, and whether you are new to the author or a long-time fan, I think you will too.
Profile Image for RJ - Slayer of Trolls.
765 reviews179 followers
May 16, 2020
In this sequel to Lock In, a Hilketa player dies during a match, and FBI Agents Chris Shane and partner find themselves drawn into a complicated globe-spanning conspiracy. Haden's Syndrome was more fully explained in the first book as well as in the novella Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome*, but there's an info dump summary in the first couple chapters to bring new readers up to date, along with an explanation of the violent Haden-dominated sport of Hilketa. As before, Chris Shane is gender-neutral so you can impose a "him" or "her" onto the character, whichever you prefer, including two different audiobook versions. Scalzi's prose has matured a bit in the last few years, with a noticeable reduction (but not complete elimination) of "snark" and also, thankfully, a sharp reduction in the irritating use of italics in character dialogue that suggests that each and every one of Scalzi's characters speaks like Chandler Bing from Friends. But there's still a chatty feel to character dialogue, including that of the internal variety, that often feels awkward to read, along with enough "fluff" to get the book to the magic 300-page mark. The mystery plot is somewhat fun and easy to read, and is no more unrealistic than most bestseller mysteries although that is probably damning with faint praise. Bottom line: if you liked the first one, or you're a fan of Scalzi, you'll enjoy this one too.

* available for free here: https://www.tor.com/2014/05/13/unlock...
Profile Image for Audrey.
1,030 reviews164 followers
January 25, 2021
This is a sequel to Lock In, but you don’t have to read that one to understand this one. In the near future, about 1 percent of the population has Locked-In Syndrome because of a disease called Haden’s. The people who had the disease are called Hadens, and they’re able to download themselves into robot bodies called threeps, affectionately named for C-3PO.

Our main character is a Haden named Chris, whose gender is never actually specified, but I just went with male. He’s an FBI agent and child of famous, rich parents. When a Haden athlete dies on the field in his threep, Haden and his partner get to figure it all out. It’s a little “I, Robot” and a little “Castle.”

I loved the cat, Donut.

It’s a good mystery. It has lots of funny dialogue. Chris destroyed a lot of threeps in the first book and does that again this time. My only complaint was that it got hard to keep track of all the suspects. I have this issue a lot, so odds are good it’s only me. Anyway, the book is a good introduction to science fiction for those who have been afraid to try it. I am a big fan of Scalzi now.

Language: Moderate amount of strong language
Sexual Content: implied only; mentions of robotic sexual aids
Violence: not graphic; hitting, shooting, arson, etc.
Harm to Animals:
Harm to Children:
Other (Triggers):
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,233 reviews169 followers
June 17, 2018
Having loved Lock In (and the short story that started it all Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this sequel. As expected, we are offered another fast-paced police procedural set in a world very much like our own but with some important differences due to a percentage of the population suffering from Haden’s Syndrome, in effect locking people in their own bodies.

The murder mystery is treated in the usual way, focusing on the FBI Agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann’s investigation of a sports related murder. However, since the violent sport in question is one only played by Hadens using their threeps, nothing is as it seems.

On the surface, this is a very easy and entertaining read, but in the background, Scalzi carries on with his treatment of the notion of gender as well as that of perception. If I had one wish, it would be that he develops Chris more deeply somehow, especially since Vann’s portrayal is spot on.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,264 reviews222 followers
June 10, 2018
Chris Shane and Leslie Vann are back and investigating the mysterious death of a professional athlete in Hillketa, a sport where all the players are affected by Haden's Syndrome. What follows is a multi-city investigation involving adultery and a corporate sports league where murders and violent crime are all over the place as someone desperately tries to cover-up what's actually happening and trying to stay one step ahead of the FBI.

I thought that this was an excellent follow-up to the brilliant Lock In, further exploring the world of Haden's Syndrome and the impact of hostile government legislation on a community that depends on it. Parallels with the current US government rollback of health subsidies aren't hard to make.

My only criticism of these books so far is that I'm really not getting much of a feel of who Chris is outside of the FBI, with even conversations with their friends and family revolving around FBI cases. That's probably fine this early in the series; I get the impression that young FBI agents probably don't have much of a life outside of their jobs.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,658 reviews1,692 followers
May 10, 2018
Scalzi's books are always such good palette cleansers. Head On was fast and fun (and a little bit infuriating).

This is the second book in the Lock In series, which started with 2014's Lock In. You don't need to have read the first book if this one tickles your fancy, but you should, because it's great. The premise here is that in the near future, a disease called Haden's Syndrome (after the first lady of the US, it's most famous victim) makes it so that a portion of the population are locked in to their bodies, perfectly aware, but unable to move on their own or care for themselves. But because of the first lady, massive amounts of funding and research happened early on, and led to social progormas, legislation, and inventions to benefit the new population. The most significant of these are the Agora, a virtual space where Hadens (as they've come to be called) can be ambulatory and interact with one another, and Threeps (short for Threepio), robot bodies that Hadens can use to move about in the physical world.

Half the fun in these books is watching the way Scalzi plays with the social and economic order in a world where something like this has happened. Of course, I say fun, but it's not ALL fun. These are also murder mystery/thrillers, after all, and our protagonist is a Haden named Chris who was famous in childhood for being a Haden and having a famous NBA player father, but who is now an FBI agent. The dynamic between Chris in a Threep body and Chris's partner, Leslie, is continually fascinating. Not least because Leslie is a really fun character, very bitter and full of piss and vinegar. Scalzi has thought out the worldbuilding here very well.

But in this one specifically, the mystery is also a delightful combo of dark humor and surprising pathos. Hilketa is the fastest growing sport in the world, and it can only be played by people in a Threep, because the entire point of the game is to rip your opponent's head off and use it to score points. Not something a person in a non-robot body would be able to handle, but very amusing to think about, and just as in the world in the book, entertaining to watch. However, also just as in the book, we as the reader are immediately made to feel guilty for our barbaric impulses, as the case of a murdered Hilketa player who died in the middle of gameplay after having his Threep's head ripped off three times in one game, brings to light the dark underbelly of the sport, and the corporate greed that is steadily making things worse for all Hadens.

I expected for this book to make me laugh, because Scalzi's stuff always does that for me, but I didn't expect it to make me angry.

I hope Scalzi keeps putting these books out every once in a while. Not least because I want him to write a book that deals with the worsening conditions for Hadens legally, and in a substantial way instead of a background one. Chris, as an extremely privileged person, has not really been affected by it all because all that NBA money means multiple Threeps can be bought, not one but two personal carers can be hired, and Chris never has to worry about healthcare or job security, so I think that might be an interesting POV to write from.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
May 12, 2018
"Basically, Hilketa is both representation and alienation for Hadens."

This is an FBI procedural story set in the near future where the case is focused on robot controlled medieval gladiatorial sports, Hilketa. I wish there had been more sport, but this emphasized the political and economical consequences of Hadens, especially how business and legislation are in a constant push and pull. It feels like a Washington D.C. story with the lens decidedly on the business side.

The trajectory was good, but it felt dry. This is not a thriller even though there are elements which certainly seem pegged as such. But I guess that the protagonist, Agent Chris Shane, because he is a Haden can be preternaturally calm since his physical body is not responsible for the checks his threep is cashing.

This had some interesting points about inclusion for people who are limited by their physical bodies in the social world through threeps--imagine androids you can neurally connect to and interact in everyday life from work to shopping to family. Imagine them as star athletes with huge endorsement deals. It also brings to question all the other kinds of human interaction including sex and identity.

Overall, this was a fun read. Good choice for a beach, pool, or lazy weekend read.

And this world is a lot closer than you think, see this BBC article about a running robot: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-c.... We just need the neural interface, which is a lot like saying sure we're going to Mars as soon as we figure out how to deal with solar radiation so we don't cook people along the way.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,717 reviews2,311 followers
June 13, 2018
Wry wit, social commentary, and a world full of stories: I really enjoy Scalzi's Lock In universe, and was happy to read this sequel. In this rich world of androids and humans, Scalzi explores the role of the body and mind in identity, and dis/ability, business and politics, all in a fun procedural buddy-cop format. Scalzi's mashup of genres is ever-entertaining and I hope he keeps going with this for a long while.
Profile Image for Josh.
1,636 reviews148 followers
January 25, 2019
The second book in the futuristic sci-fi police procedural series by John Scalzi, Head On, builds on the thematic foundations laid out in the earlier book (Lock In) by introducing professional sports into the post Haden's syndrome world where sufferers are locked in to their bodies but are able to live a mobile and semi-normal life by using humanoid robotics technologies called threeps to get around; this all made possible by technology which transposes the locked in persons brain waves into a threep or integrator via a neural network.

The professional sport of Hilketa is a threep only sport in which a team of combatants violently attack the other team with the goal being to decapitate the head of a member of the other team and score a goal with it. Whilst the book is heavily centered around this sport, it's not the single plot device, rather, the untimely death of one of the Hilketa stars in front of a live audience, closely followed by the apparent suicide of a senior office official drives the direction of the story.

This is where Agents Shane (a Hayden) and Vann (angry FBI agent) come in.

Head On follows a largely standard formula of investigation with the agents progressively expanding the list of suspects, uncovering corruption and cover-ups, and ultimately taking down the bad guy(s). The characters are extremely well written and the humorous anecdotes makes for an entertaining read (or listen as was the case for me).

My rating: 4/5 stars. I hope John Scalzi continues to write books set in this futuristic world as I need more Shane and Vann stories in my life.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews290 followers
March 31, 2020
wheeler looked at vann, exasperated. “what are you, an asshole?”
“yes,” vann said. “i am an asshole. now tell me where to park.”

head on is the technothriller follow-up to lock in.

again featuring our favorite investigative duo, agents chris shane and leslie vann. one a rich rookie with haden’s syndrome, which means they often walk around piloting an android body, and the other a bitter veteran with Bad Cop written all over her.

though this one can be read as a standalone (all the worldbuilding you need is explained in easily digestible remarks), it was a wonderful expansion of the world john scalzi set up in the previous novel. you really feel the economic and societal repercussions of what happened in book one, which just adds to the realism of the in-book universe.

the story this time around is of an american football-style sport (i say, knowing fuck-all about it) popular amongst hadens, meaning it’s played by way of piloting robobodies. only in this game, you gotta tear off the head of a designated player and get it in the goal. oh, and you get to use hammers and swords too, because it’s brutal fun!

when chris’ parents are looking into investing in this new league, one of the players suddenly dies out on the field -- dies for real, not just by customary android-beheading. what follows is an intricate mystery of corporate greed, questionable relationships, and shady dealings.

though i really liked the previous book, especially the worldbuilding and social issues, i thought the mystery was a little lacking. but apparently now that scalzi no longer needed to introduce his world and his main characters, he went in FULL throttle for the crime aspect.

you’ve got a huge cast of characters who all somehow manage to fit into the narrative like they truly belong there; even people you suspect of proper wrongdoing don’t feel like red herrings. they feel like believable people with their own agenda. you’ve got your sports league executives, star athletes, various go-getters from lawyers to entrepreneurs, and even suspected assassins.

and i LOVED this, because (1) it gets harder for me to guess the culprit(s), and (2) it thematically connects so many stories; from fucked up interpersonal relationships to seemingly advantageous investments.

and of course, scalzi also casually includes discussions on issues that are relevant today: taking advantage of people with disabilities, discrimination, and what gender and sexuality are like for people with haden’s. and again, it’s woven into the whole murder mystery without a fuss.

another thing that was great about this story was the dynamic between our two main characters: shane and vann. vann is just so curmudgeonly, perpetually Tired of Everything™ that whatever that comes out of her mouth is either hilarious or cool. i was right there with shane admiring her strong-arming snooty lawyers and arrogant pricks. a lovely pastime, really.

vann’s not-by-the-book approach is also a great companion to shane’s by-the-book-but-i-accidentally-fucked-up approach. they work amazingly well together and always have each other’s backs without any sexual tension. i love how vann doesn’t always make it easy for shane, but the moment she suspects someone is trying to fuck shane over, she’s in there cocking her metaphorical gun.

also, it’s still great to see that chris shane remains an individual of indeterminate everything, from gender and sexuality to physical appearance.

anyway, pick this one up if you’re interested in a fast-paced crime ride with a fascinating world and fun banter.

4.0 stars.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,029 followers
January 6, 2019
This is as well written as Lock In, but is a sequel so some of the shiny newness has rubbed off. That means it was really good, a wonderful murder mystery in the semi-near future. It's also narrated by Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher from STNG) who really does a good job. I don't think reading these books in order is a must, but I'd suggest it.

Would a person who had Hayden's from such an early age even have a sex? Several times we're told that every Hayden victim has their brain reordered by the disease, so it's possible - seems likely - that Chris has no sex at all. It's one of the things that makes us human & connects us in a variety of ways to other people, yet Chris seems like a normally functioning person who just has none. Not sure I buy that, but it's a good thought experiment.
Profile Image for kartik narayanan.
735 reviews205 followers
May 6, 2018
Head On is a good follow up to Lock In. Most of the complaints I had about Lock In have been addressed here, while it still retains all of its strengths.

In my review of Lock In, I mentioned that its strength was its excellent world building - on par with any Asimov out there - while it was let down by its poor storyline and paper thin characters.

Rejoice! I liked the story in Head On and the characters, while not robust, are definitely better portrayed this time. John Scalzi choses to focus on the aftermath of the AK act with its implications on the industries that were relying on the pork coming with the Haden disability act. There is a game here, which while I personally found boring, at least adds to the richness of the story. In fact, the story revolves around this game and its associated league. There is a nice little conspiracy underlying all this.

I am looking forward to the next one!

Profile Image for Jane.
385 reviews607 followers
May 31, 2018
3 meh, this is an ok story-stars for the Audible edition of Head On, as narrated by Wil Wheaton. Add half a star for the great (as always) narration by Wil, and I'll throw in another half-star in appreciation of Scalzi managing to squeeze in the phrase "Applied directly to the forehead!"

Overall: 4 stars, but I sure wish there'd been more Scalzi silliness.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
1,612 reviews
April 20, 2018
This is basically a mystery with a really cool setting. I enjoyed it! I liked the premise a lot, and I especially enjoyed the first part and getting back into the world.
Profile Image for Jenny Baker.
1,261 reviews195 followers
May 16, 2018
This is my least favorite Scalzi novel to date, but this wasn't bad at all. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't as wowed as I was with Lock In and Old Man's War. The summary says that you can read this as a standalone, but I recommend that you read Lock In first.

It took at least 50 pages for me to get into this. Once the story picked up I loved it, but there were too many ups and downs for me. One minute I was glued to the book and the next I was a little bored. I just wish there had been more consistency with the pacing and overall storytelling.

I loved the fact that this was a mystery in a science fiction world. I couldn't wait to find out how Duane Chapman died. Chris Shane and Leslie Vann are pretty cool FBI agents. During their investigation, there was a great twist adding yet another mystery to the story!

Overall, I'm still a John Scalzi fan and I plan to read the rest of his works. I don't expect to love every novel from an author. If his "worst" novel is a three-star read for me, that's pretty damn good.
Profile Image for Kaethe.
6,406 reviews462 followers
May 7, 2023
09 June 2018

Clever and entertaining. It's an interesting world Scalzi has created, and this is a fun direction to take. And given how much I like the running gag about threeps being destroyed, Hilketa is a perfect sport for the world. And even more threeps being destroyed! Sweet.


07 May 2021

I really don't have anything to add except, it's still an interesting world, and this book is just entertaining as anything: good guys being good at that, bad guys being bad, smart people being clever, property being spectacularly destroyed.

When this gets made some day, which I believe is as nearly inevitable as anything in filmaking can be, I sincerely hope the effects are practical, not just CGI. Also, I would live to be an extra on that set

Actually, I assume almost everything Scalzi writes will be filmed someday. Being an extra on any of those sets would be fun.

Personal copy.
Profile Image for Marianna Neal.
470 reviews2,153 followers
June 22, 2018
2.5 out of 5 stars

Let me start out by saying I don't think this is a bad book. Furthermore, there were parts of Head On that I enjoyed and that actually gave me hope of finally "getting into" this book. But, unfortunately, it just didn't do much for me—the story, the characters, the writing... none of this went above average, hence the 2.5 out of 5 rating. It was just... OK. The idea of Head On is definitely much better than the execution, especially considering how interesting Lock In was.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
April 23, 2018
I’m so glad that Scalzi returns to the fascinating near-future world of Hadens, people representing about 1% of the world’s population who were stricken with an epidemic causing neural damage in a pattern leaving them totally unable to move. This state, called “Locked-In”and used for the earlier novel’s title, was the target of a massive, “moonshot” of government sponsored research efforts and subsidies which led to the development two avenues for the disease victims to live effective lives. One was sophisticated neural implants allowing their immobile selves mental control and emulated sensory input from android robots, as connected via a super, universal-sort of WiFi. The second was a special online virtual world where many Hadens prefer to spend the majority of their time in the company of their peers.

Our hero Chris is a famous Haden, the son of a wealthy couple who helped lead the policy initiatives behind the life-giving technology innovations. He humbly and effectively serves as an FBI agent dealing with Haden-related crimes, partnered with a tough veteran female agent, Vann, who complements Chris’ insight-based ethical approach with a sarcastic, no-nonsense style. The case that kicks off the story here concerns a Haden, Chapman, who dies while remote-piloting his specialized combat android in a professional stadium game called Hilketa. This lucrative team sport sounds like a no-holds barred kind of rugby in which points are scored for taking off the head of an opponent and moving it to the goal. The physiological monitoring system suggests an epileptic-like disturbance preceded his death. The league’s owners are concerned that the investigation will conclude that the sport is dangerously stressful to the participating Hadens experiencing the sensations though the virtual sensorium. If instead someone has put an additive into the Haden’s IV supplement, it would suggest someone may be trying to sabotage their gravy train, right when companies involved are trying to expand the league to Asia and Europe for a big new surge in profits. When one of the company executives turns up dead from an apparent but suspicious suicide, corporate corruption and greed seems to be at play somehow.

A third alternative is that the player who died was killed somehow for personal reasons. His estranged wife of the dead player, a regular human, in fact clues Chris into the affair her husband has been having with another Haden. How is that possible with Hadens? Via sexbots! Now Scalzi is giving us an innovation of plausibly large economic interest. It is a fair projection that lots of normal humans might be willing to get the same neural implants as the Hadens if they could act out and feel things via their choice of anatomically correct (or fancifully equipped) android avatars for outrageous sex. He doesn’t have to immerse us much into the details to convey some interesting possibilities. They outshadow the potential of normal humans with implants for pursuing play in the Hilketa league.

All these novel motivations for murder and its coverup are like new wine in the old bottles of a traditional police procedural. Ditto for the police-buddy teamwork of Chris and Vann, replete with snappy jokes, one upmanship, and good cop/bad cop routines in interviews. At the same time, a regular human detective partnered with an apparent robot harks back to the flavor of Asimov’s “I Robot” series. The ability of Chris, lying in a bed in his parent’s house, to essentially leap across distances to “appear” in the control and form of different android machines in various locations leads to a lot of exciting surprises in the action. Like a cop whose bravado gets him in trouble for wrecking too many vehicles, Chris has a patterns of frequently getting expensive departmental models wrecked, burned up, or run over by vehicles. And Haden criminals hiding out their selves in expensive simulations in the Agora virtual world can be tracked down there by Chris. I’ve always loved sci fi exploration of personalized places in computer networks, starting with Gibson and Stephenson’s work that predates the internet. Here we are treated to some fun with some fascinating variations.

This book was provided for review through the Netgalley program.
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