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Book Report: Lock-In

The thing about picking up a book by John Scalzi is that you know what you're getting on a bunch of levels. It'll have snappy, sarcastic dialogue. It'll have intelligent characters. The characters will be in mortal danger, probably with tremendous frequency. It'll turn out OK. It'll be a quick read, with virtually no lengthy passages of poetic description to skim over. And it'll be at the least basically competent.

What I mean is, there's a floor for Scalzi expectations that's fairly high. There's a ceiling that's fairly low, too, I have to say. I think I've said before that I've never been inclined, with a Scalzi book, to grab people by the lapels and say read this book, dammit!. I would say, for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like. If you were going to grab a book for an airplane ride, without knowing much about it other than the author, I think a Scalzi is a safe bet. I think Mr. Scalzi would be pretty happy with this assessment—I mean, he'd presumably prefer people to have expectations of the books being life-changing lapel-grabbers, and he has made it clear that he can live just fine with other people not liking the books at all, and I don't think Tor is going to slap a safe bet to be worth the read on the next cover. But John Scalzi seems, at least in his public persona, to be above all a professional writer, and he writes professionally, if you know what I mean. And that's a hell of an achievement.

Lock-In definitely meets that baseline for me. It's a good book. I went back and forth between being satisfied with that, and wanting something different from a good book, wanting a risk-taking book, a book with pretentions, a book whose reach exceeds its grasp. My dissatisfaction with the last book I read, though, a nice contrast with this one; I liked the sensibility of the book, as well as the book itself.

I particularly liked the way certain aspects of the threep tech were presented as surprises to the audience, while being normal to the people in the Lock-In world. If there's no time-lag—and we have had to swallow the lack of time-lag already—then a person can control a threep (or an Integrator) from three thousand miles away as easily as thirty. I may have missed the bit where somebody at the threep location accepts a particular controller, but that's just a thing, and the main character wouldn't see that happening for his own threep anyway (although Haydens would presumably see that happening a lot, in rental centers and so forth). It sets up a great bit toward the end, where Chris Our Hero is just zipping around the country, here and there, DC and Arizona and Virginia and California, and while it's expensive, it's logistically easier than getting in a cab and going to the Mall.

But what impressed me was the way that Mr. Scalzi handled it, and handled other aspects of the life that Chris took for granted and the audience would find startling. Chris' third-person defense of his own body. The way the Haydens dialed down or up various senses on their threeps, depending on their circumstances. I also really liked the way Chris wildly overestimates his threeps' fighting abilities. I would have liked a little more explicit sense that Chris losing fight after fight has something to do with being in unfamiliar robot bodies, but the general sense that he keeps tackling people and then losing them, together with the sense that the fight can't hurt him because he isn't there, is a great play on the sort of detective story that the whole book riffs on.

If anything, my complaint was just that I wasn't terribly interested in that sort of detective story. And I'm still not. I've lost my taste for mystery novels, and when I did like 'em, I didn't really like this sort of thing. Maybe I'm missing something by not having a few dozen Ludlums and Pattersons and Cornwells under my belt, but the whole police procedural element to the book was clearly supposed to be fun and, for me, wasn't. Maybe that's what kept the book from being a lapel-grabber for me, or maybe it's just that perfectly good thing, a perfectly good book.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,