Starting off the New Year with a powerful change in my typical reading. A sci-fi crime thriller. I find science fiction pretty hit-or-miss, but I never read crime thrillers. Why? Who knows. But I was addicted.
Haden’s Syndrome is a disease, where as described above, people experience “Lock In”. However, to get around this,” threeps” are invented. Threeps are android-like personal transports which allow people who are mentally free, but trapped in their own body (those who are locked in), to experience the world in a way similar to those unaffected. Agent Chris Shane is one of these affected. He is partnered with Leslie Vann, a surly veteran FBI agent. Vann previously had Haden’s, but she never experienced Lock In. Due to this, she is a fully functioning human as we imagine, only with slightly altered brain chemistry. This means Haden research and interactions are of great importance to her. Their relationships are critical to the addition of the progression of this story.
“Making people change because you can’t deal with who they are isn’t how it’s supposed to be done. What needs to be done is for people to pull their heads out of their asses. You say ‘cure.’ I hear ‘you’re not human enough.”
Now, I will admit, when I began the book I was very confused. It took me a while to understand the lingo and what everything around Hayden’s Syndrome meant. I knew it was critical to the story, so I re-read a lot to understand it. In the end, I wish I had just pushed forward– it is all clearer in context throughout than it is at the beginning. On a re-read, I’m sure I’ll get way more out of it. I also learned after the fact that Scalzi wrote a short story prequel. You can check that out here: Unlocked: An Oral History of Hayden’s Syndrome.
What I didn’t realize was that locked-in syndrome (LIS) is real. LIS was coined in 1966 when it was discovered that there are scenarios in which patients are aware, but unable to move or communicate due to a paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles. Can you imagine?
Apparently, Scalzi could. This whole story is imagined around a world where LIS is commonplace. Billions have been funneled into research since the First Lady contracted this disease (First Lady Haden, hence the name). This leads to a new community– people whom society either sees as a victim of Haden’s or as someone free from the constraints of the human body. To me, reading from the perspective of someone affected by lock in, it felt like reading about being transgender or some other “new” community who is trying to break into acceptance of society. It was quite enlightening. Particularly as Scalzi shows the diversity of this community through a multitude of characters.
Lock In is also the definition of science fiction. A fictional world where new technologies are introduced to help society with a completely possible (and in this case quite real) issue. Not only has Scalzi extrapolated what sort of technology will come to be to help patients with LIS, but he also addressed self-driving cars, the ethics around continuous video feeds, and the idea of how hackers will work with technology integrated directly into a human. The latter really shook me quite a bit. Our world already has wi-fi enabled pacemakers… what if a world leader has one? Can you imagine the possibilities in a world where a quarter of the population has wi-fi accessible technology linked to their brain?
I found myself addicted to the characters and the plot, despite how easy everything seemed to come into place for Chris Shane and his partner. I also loved the subtext around gender and sex identity, as well as what it means to be human. This fast-paced crime thriller really caught my attention. No wonder Scalzi has already won a Hugo. I’ve learned my lesson. Read more crime thrillers. Good thing it’s the start of a new year!
I recommend this book to everyone who likes sci-fi or crime thrillers (but not necessarily both), is interested in LIS, or who just wants some quality entertainment for a few hours.
Post Script: Apparently, you can better understand true LIS through the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who lived it. It was also turned into a movie in 2007. This is on my To Be Read (TBR) list now, did you add it?