Novel Review: “Lock In”

With the TV adaptation of John Scalzi’s 2014 SF/detective novel in development/preproduction, we thought we’d review the 2014 source. We’re a bit late to the party, we know. Consider it a bonus “Weekend Review.”

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi

ISBN-10: 076538132X
ISBN-13: 978-0765381323
First published in August 2014.

Available from,,, and as a kindle.


A disease leaves a percentage of the population “locked” into their immobile bodies. New technology allows their consciousnesses to move about in artificial constructs, colloquially known as “threeps,” and as passengers in other people’s heads. Amidst the attendant cultural turmoil, two detectives, one locked in, and one not, investigate a connected series of crimes.

High Points:

What makes this book more than future noir is its handling of the complex issues surrounding consciousness transfer (which may never happen, but should be considered) and the culture and politics surrounding disabilities and differences and new communities (which we cannot escape).

As a bonus, the novel plays an interesting game with gender.

Low Point:

SF often requires exposition, and readers of detective fiction expect it. How else does one explain the intricate plotting of the story’s villain? Even given the expectation, the last couple of chapters really get bogged down in exposition.

A a bonus problem, the perpetrator’s identity is not really in doubt.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Lock In features the expected elements of detective fiction and several familiar SF concepts. The novel makes some fresh uses of these, but Scalzi (generally) has been about reexamining and reworking tropes more than creating anything startlingly original.

Imagery: 5/6

Story: 5/6 The story presents an intriguing thought-experiment of a near future, and a mystery that develops logically from that society’s technology and social conventions.

Characterization: 5/6 The two major detectives divide the characteristics of their hardboiled antecedents. Shane gets the rough and tumble treatment and keeps going because, hey, Shane is in a robotic body. Mismatched partner Vann does the hard-drinking, one-night-standing thing. I believe in Scalzi’s characters, but I wish I knew more about them.

Emotional Response: 5/6 John Scalzi deserves his fame if, for no other reason, the ability to write highly readable novels that pretty much match what it says on the cover. You want a Heinleinesque space war novel with a more enlightened political sensibility? Read Old Man’s War. You want a near-future detective procedural that comments on minority/disability politics and transfer of consciousness? Lock In is an enjoyable near-future detective procedural that comments on minority/disability politics and transfer of consciousness.

Editing: 5/6 Exposition notwithstanding, Scalzi remains one of the most readable of contemporary SF writers.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, Lock In receives 32/42