by John Scalzi
93 pgs, 334 pgs
Unlocked is a novella that gives an account of a disease that sweeps across the globe sometime in the very near future, killing millions of people. The disease has three distinct stages that can affect people who become infected. The first stage comes with symptoms that are very similar to the flu. In fact, because it's so similar, it is able to spread rampantly when it first hits, because no one recognizes that there is anything unique about this disease, or more deadly than what they have experienced every year with the typical flu. The first stage sickens 2.75 billion people and ends up killing 400 million of them in just a matter of weeks. Some of those who survive stage one later experience stage two, and experience symptoms similar to meningitis, and of those, some progress to stage three--"Lock In."
Millions of people across the world go into "Lock In," a state of complete paralysis but fully aware, trapped in their body with no means of communicating with the rest of the world. When the First Lady goes into stage three, the disease claims its highest profile victim, and the disease gets its name. President Haden makes it the sole mission of his presidency to try to find a cure for Haden's Syndrome and to try to help those who are trapped in their useless bodies. Trillions of dollars are spent researching the brain, mapping it and trying to find a way to reconnect it to the body. They're unable to find a way for the brain to once again control the body, but they do develop an alternative--by implanting an artificial neural network into the brain, they're able to transmit the brain's impulses to artificial bodies that are able to move, talk, and get back out into the world.
Lock In begins 25 years after Haden's Syndrome forever changed the world. Millions of Haden's Syndrome sufferers have returned to the world in the form of highly-sophisticated robots referred to as "Threeps" which is a reference to C-3PO--the human-like robot from Star Wars. But Threeps are not the only new members of society. A very small group of those who contract Haden's, but then recover, experience a change to their brain that allows them "rent out" their bodies for a day to those who are Locked In and would like to once more experience those things that can only be done with a human body.
All that is just the fascinating backstory for the plot of Lock In. Narrated by Chris Shane, a brand-new FBI agent reporting to his first day on the job at the Bureau as the book begins--who just so happens to be a Haden. He and his partner, Agent Vann work for a division in the FBI that investigates crimes involving Hadens. On his very first day on the job they're called on to investigate a murder. On the surface it seems like a pretty straight forward case. But as they investigate the lives of those involved, Shane and Vann soon learn that there are powers at play behind the crime that are trying to once again change the landscape of the entire planet.
Scalzi's story is a fantastic example of what makes science fiction so much fun. It's intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, and in a time when Ebola is so prevalent in the news, it's more than a little bit eerie.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆