If you enjoyed I Robot, Almost Human, or Minority Report (the movie or the series) this might be right up your alley. And if you didn’t enjoy them, it might still be up your alley, because it mostly avoids the worst cliches surrounding the “grizzled veteran cop paired with shiny robot partner” story.
After a quick future history lesson, we jump into the action alongside Chris Shane: newly-minted FBI agent and poster child for Haden’s Syndrome, a global pandemic which left some of the population paralyzed (the “lock in” of the book’s title). How does one function as an FBI field agent when paralyzed? Either by remote-operating a robot body called a threep (yes, it’s a Star Wars reference), or by cohabiting the body of certain non-paralyzed Haden’s survivors called Integrators.
Lock In offers up the “robot buddy cop” story, but without the tired trope of the hopelessly naive robot confounded by human behavior. There’s a real boy inside that machine (or a real girl – the book never actually tells you Chris’ gender), and it makes for a much more interesting story.
There’s also an interesting twist in that Chris is a celebrity, but not immediately recognizable. The public still remembers Chris as the “robot child” from a famous photo, and going incognito is as easy as trading in a car for a newer model. Also, there’s some interesting stuff on the nature of virtual identities and communities, since some Hadens have deliberately chosen not to interact with the outside world.
Aside from these speculative elements, Lock In plays like a police procedural, with a dash of political thriller thrown in for spice. There are nefarious corporate and political machinations, broken up with genuinely funny dialogue – a Scalzi trademark I enjoyed in Redshirts and Old Man’s War.
There’s also plenty of action. Shane seems to go through robot bodies like The Dukes of Hazzard went through Dodge Chargers. The plot barrels forward with plenty of twists and turns before finally reaching a satisfying conclusion. Or at least, I found it pretty satisfying.
Is it a political thriller trapped in the body of a science fiction novel? Is it a socially-conscious science fiction novel trapped in the body of a police procedural? Who knows? And really, who cares? The bottom line is it’s an entertaining story, with characters who seem like real people, even while they expand your understanding of what it means to be human.