mark monday's Reviews > Lock In

Lock In by John Scalzi
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bookshelves: scifi-modern, murdertime, earth-journal

from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit

It’s tough to be a human: that is something I’ve learned during my lengthy time studying the human species on this planet Earth. Life itself is hard, of course, with its everyday pitfalls and each individual’s long-term ambitions and disappointments… but for humanity that difficulty is compounded by all of the –isms that exist to divide humanity from itself. Isms based on race and culture and gender and orientation and age and socio-economic status and family background and personal appearance; all those things, whether intangible or physical, that help form a human’s identity. I have always been fascinated by this construct “identity,” at least in how it affects the human species. Back home on Robot Planet we seldom are concerned with such things; if we feel anxious about or disappointed in our current form, we simply upload into a more pleasing iteration.

Scalzi appears to share my interest in identity; specifically, the mutability of physical identity and the distance that can lie between a person’s interior and exterior. From Scalzi’s perspective, the clothes do not make the man – nor does the body or the gender or the age or many other things. It is a forward-looking perspective and one that I fully endorse. This perspective has been present in much of his work; his exciting science fiction saga starting with Old Man’s War posits that the mutable physical self is but a prop or costume or useful tool for that which exists within. He takes that interest to a new level in his novel Lock In. A world full of a sizeable minority who only engage with the world in mind and spirit, whose prone “locked in” bodies slumber peacefully while their minds roam the world through robotic suits or as guests in human bodies or in a kind of virtual landscape constructed for this minority. It's as if Scalzi finally went for it in this novel and decided to put his interests right up front. He is truly a classic version of the “speculative” science fiction author in that he hypothesizes where the human race may go to next while still concerning himself with how we operate as individuals and as a society right now.

Perhaps I am just a typical liberal robot of the old model, but I find a touching connection between his progressive blog posts and his ongoing interest in illustrating how a person is so much more than what their body does or looks like or comes from.

As far as the novel itself goes, it is a futuristic mystery. Agent Chris Shane is new on the scene, and on his first day he has to deal with a crime that has far-reaching implications for that sizeable minority who are locked in, as well as the rest of humanity. Agent Shane is also locked in, so there was a lot of enjoyable detail about how Chris and others who are locked in often interface with the physical world through robotic bodies nicknamed "threeps." Chris Shane's gender is never identified – an ingenious decision and one that fits right in with Scalzi’s viewpoint re what actually makes a person a person. The mystery itself is simple to solve; the prose is bland and workmanlike but not objectionable. It is all quite easy going down and made for a pleasant way to pass the time. More compelling to me than the plot were the themes and ideas mentioned above. And more appealing to me than the rather rote characters on display was the character of the author, also on display. He is an admirable example of his species. I’d welcome him on Robot Planet, where he would be the source of much interest! Although I suppose if there were more humans like Scalzi, I would feel more guilt about our upcoming invasion. And then where would Robot Planet harvest its fuel sources and capture its meat-based servants? Our moral logic would force us to find another planet for such needs! Happily, there are few like Scalzi on this planet Earth.
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Reading Progress

October 7, 2014 – Started Reading
October 7, 2014 – Shelved
October 13, 2014 – Shelved as: scifi-modern
October 13, 2014 – Shelved as: murdertime
October 13, 2014 – Finished Reading
January 21, 2016 – Shelved as: earth-journal

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Tom (new)

Tom The only Scalzi I've read has been Redshirts, which I loved the pants off of. was this a decent read? It's been getting lots of buzz...


mark monday definitely decent! I enjoyed it. I gave it 3 stars, but on average I give most things 3 stars, and I like most things I read.


message 3: by Miriam (last edited Oct 16, 2014 06:01PM) (new)

Miriam Not at all similar to this, but you might be interested in Bone Dance as also dealing with "who are you if you're not tied to your physical embodiment" type questions.


mark monday thanks for the rec! I've always wanted to read that author.


message 5: by Tom (new)

Tom Amazing, hilarious, and thoughtful review as always Mr Monday.


mark monday thank you Tom!


message 7: by Lawyer (new)

Lawyer Mark, enjoyed your review. I was wondering if you find any trace of Scalzi heading in direction of Saberhagen's Beserker series where artificial intelligence, i.e. machines rebel against their makers? The idea of minds occupying robotic bodies seems to open up that possibility. Which reverts back to Asmimov's laws of Robotics. Then we leap forward to STTNG and the duel with the Borg--"Resistance is Futile." I've not read Scalzi, but your review draws me in. Being a card carrying AARP'er, I'm more of a Golden Ager when it comes to Science Fiction, an admirer of earlier authors, now considered pioneers in the field.


mark monday thanks, Mike.

actually I don't see that in Scalzi's writing, unless it would be from the machine point of view. one of the takeaways about Scalzi I've seen is that he is less interested in exploring war than he is exploring 'what is consciousness' and 'what makes a person'.

if you like Golden Age scifi, I definitely recommend Scalzi to you!


Cecily Yes, the themes and ideas are so good... (I just wish he'd told it better).

I'm intrigued that you acknowledge Chris' gender is never stated, but use male pronouns. I'm glad I'm not the only one guilty of, initially at least, making that assumption.


message 10: by mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

mark monday the workmanlike prose and unsurprising narrative (outside of the ambiguity around gender) clearly were turn-offs for you.

and yes, guilty as charged. I chose to identify (and identify with) Chris as male in my review because that was definitely my assumption as I read it.

and now to read your review!


Cecily I can cope with workmanlike prose in sci-fi, where the idea tends to be the main thing, but I still want the story to unfold in a satisfying way. That's where this was weak for me.

I'm not criticising your assumption; I made the same one, as did many others. What I find more interesting is that some people feel more comfortable sticking with that assumption, and others (perhaps in part through guilt!) don't. I don't think there's a right or wrong, though.


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