I was chatting to Kristi, the friend who lent me Lock In by John Scalzi, and I mentioned how the theme of identity politics was brilliantly executed in terms of disability and race. I said that I didn’t realise the protagonist and his dad were black until towards the end of the book. Kristi highlighted the fact I used the pronoun ‘he’:
“You’re never actually told what gender the protagonist is.”
“Yeah, Chris can be either a man or a woman.”
“Oh god, you’re right. I assumed the protagonist was a man.”
This was fascinating. What made me assume the protagonist was a man? Because the author was male? I assumed the protagonist was male from the very beginning without once being given any information that told me this was the case. On top of this, I assumed the protagonist was white. Why did I make the assumption that the protagonist was a white male without being told? With Queer Theory forming the backbone of all of my writing I’d like to think that I’m not so easily duped by hegemonic forces but it’s clear that unless told otherwise my default is ‘white male’. This is both fascinating and worrying.
John Scalzi, you are very sneaky. I like it.
Lock In is set at some point in the future after a virus has swept the world causing millions to be ‘locked in’ to their bodies. With investment in research and advances in technology Hadens are able to exist in a virtual world called The Agora and they can have a physical presence by using humanoid machines called Threeps or people known as Integrators. An Integrator is someone who was affected by the virus but weren’t locked in; the virus changed their brain in a way that makes them more receptive to the technology that allows Hadens to use their bodies. Integrators hire themselves out to Hadens but they are still present and able to control their bodies so that a Haden can’t make them do something they don’t want to. However, we come into the story as FBI agent Chris Shane starts her/his first day and it looks as if a Haden may have been controlling an Integrator, Johnny Sani, when he died.
The narrative is told in first person by Chris as she/he (this use of ‘she/he’ highlights the trouble we have when the English language has no gender neutral pronoun, which in turn highlights how language constructs our society) works with their partner, Vann, to find out what happened to Johnny Sani.
Lock In has an almost pulp feel to the narrative as Scalzi draws the reader into a murky world of political intrigue and corrupt corporations. On the surface it may seem to be a mystery/police procedural with a bit of sci-fi thrown in, but Lock In is much more than that as Scalzi brilliantly explores issues of identity politics not simply in the story itself but – as I’ve highlighted in the above conversation with my friend regarding race and gender – in the way it is written. I always get excited when the way a narrative is written compliments the story and theme(s); that’s when you know you have something special in your hands.
Also, when I think about it, I still don’t know if Chris’ mum is black or white or something else, so it was yet another assumption on my part to assume Chris was black after realising her/his dad was. This is what is so brilliant about Lock In – we can’t fall back on the usual signifiers because they’re not there. Which makes sense, as a Threep is a machine and a machine doesn’t have a gender or race, and in the Agora your avatar can look however you want. Using an Integrator also disrupts easy gender and race readings, as the gender and race of the Integrator doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the gender and race of the Haden using them.
A major theme of Lock In is disability. Just as we have the demonization of disabled people perpetuated by the government and media in the UK, Hadens experience hate crimes and resentment. People start to criticise the government for directing so much funding to those who are ‘locked in’, and the Abrams-Kettering Bill is passed which cuts government subsidies for Hadens. Without this funding, Haden quality of life could be severely affected, and opportunities limited, which of course has current parallels in the UK where we have the bedroom tax and the reprehensible benefit cuts perpetrated by the Tory government.
Scalzi also touches on whether a ‘disability’ is something that should be cured. Buchold is researching a cure but not all Hadens want to be ‘cured’, particularly those who have been ‘locked in’ for most or all of their lives. In many ways, a Haden using a Threep has an advantage over others, so in a sense, the Threep doesn’t even signify disability, but throughout the book Chris experiences people attempting to put her/him in their place – the prejudiced comments from the Police Captain, the cop who gives Chris a Threep that is damaged and unable to walk and tells Chris to use a wheelchair. Language plays a part too, as a Haden is considered to be ‘locked in’, ‘trapped’ in their bodies, when in many ways they have a lot more freedom than those who don’t have Hadens:
“Do I look constrained to you?” says Hubbard (who is using an Integrator) in response to a suggestion that a cure would offer the “ability to break free of the physical constraints Hadens live with daily.”
Hadens have many benefits: not being subject to gender and race signifiers; having the rich experience of the Agora virtual world; being able to ‘turn down’ feelings, like pain; travelling anywhere quickly by simply hiring a Threep that is at the other side of the country; being able to change ‘body’ if a Threep is damaged (e.g. as a child, Chris was in an accident that would have been fatal if she/he hadn’t been a Haden using a Threep and there’s several instances of Chris’ Threeps being damaged to the point where Chris would have surely ended up in hospital or dead).
However, Scalzi makes it clear that these benefits are subject to class and wealth. Chris is from a privileged background and is able to buy or hire the best Threep models. There are instances in Lock In where Chris’ Threep is damaged and she/he is able to use their privilege and wealth to get quick high-end replacements, highlighting how money can affect a person’s experience of disability.
Dealing with disability, race, gender, and the privilege of wealth, Lock In could have been heavy and earnest, but it’s a page turner with snappy dialogue and plenty of intrigue. Which brings me to another binary: literary fiction Vs genre fiction, or high art Vs low art. Despite the popularity and growing respect for genre fiction and mediums like comics, there is still a long way to go for genre fiction to gain the same respect as literary fiction (and the recent altercation between Ishiguro and Le Guin shows how arguments over genre classification can get very heated). Scalzi’s Lock In demonstrates that you can write a novel of ideas but also entertain. Of course, science fiction has always been one of the best means to explore big ideas and is the perfect vehicle for problematizing social constraints and what we consider to be ‘normal’.
There’s only a couple of points where Lock In doesn’t quite work for me. The first is that you guess who the perpetrator is early on. Though, I don’t necessarily think this is a problem, as the main intrigue is how not who. The issue I have with Lock In is where the perpetrator explains what they did in an info dump monologue in the denouement; I don’t feel this was necessary and it’s a particular narrative bug bear of mine. However, this is only a small niggle and doesn’t spoil the book for me. Lock In is an entertaining, sneaky, and clever page-turner. I’m very much looking forward to more from Scalzi and was heartened to hear about his ten year deal with Tor Books which includes a Lock In follow up. In the meantime, I’ll be straight to the library to devour his back catalogue.
Good afternoon, creatures! I’ve submitted my story Northern Lights to the Inkitt fantasy competition and would appreciate your vote if you enjoy it. You can vote for Northern Lights here by signing up to Inkitt and clicking on the heart at the bottom of the page on my story – this will help get my story into the top 10% so it can reach the eyes of the judges. Many thanks!
Northern Lights is about the cat Creature who was shunned by humans before finding a home with Sitome, the Immortal Man of the North. Sitome is kidnapped and tortured by King Salun and Creature must rescue him.
I wrote the story for my cat Jabba who died four years ago, and it is an ode to all the wonderful creatures in our lives.
Wasp is a brilliant character-driven novel set in 18th century England, where The House of Masques provides escorts to those willing to pay for their services. It’s a well-crafted, well-written page-turner.
I enjoyed the way the present and the past unfold together – as we learn more about The House of Masques we gradually learn more about how the protagonist, Bethany (or ‘Wasp’, as she comes to be known), and the other characters came to be there.
Wasp exposes the hypocrisy of ‘civil’ society, which sadly is still relevant today. It’s a feminist novel without being preachy or falling into the trap of simply portraying one dimensional ‘strong’ women; all the women are flawed – they’re human. Bethany isn’t simply a victim swept along by circumstance; she makes the best of her situation in the House of Masques but never sinks into apathy. Moreover, (without spoiling the plot) it is clear that she shoulders some responsibility for what happened to her.
As well as portraying the difficulties of being a woman in patriarchal society, Wasp touches on the brutality of slavery and also shows the way men and the upper classes are constrained and damaged by social norms.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by aspects of the denouement but that didn’t spoil it for me – I loved this book and very much look forward to more from Garbutt.
Greetings, creatures! I recently came third place in the Inkitt horror story competition with my story The Cake Tree and I wanted to thank you all for voting. I received a box of horror delights from the lovely team at Inkitt and I’m drinking from my horror mug as I type.
I also wanted to let you all know I have a facebook author page, so head on over and follow me if you’re in that land. The 100th person to like the page will be sent signed limited edition copies of my manifesto and my erotic story The Book Lover.
As part of my HellSans research I went to the talk ‘Can Robots Evolve?’ at the Edinburgh Science Festival in Summerhall. The talk by Professor Jon Timmis was chaired by Professor Alan Winfield with interactive demonstrations lead by Dr James Hilder. It was a fascinating discussion about the ways biology is influencing robotic research and application.
As the talk and demonstration progressed it became obvious that energy supply is a big problem and this was further touched upon during the Q&A with a query about robotics and sustainability. One of my obsessions is the interaction between technology and biology so I was very interested to hear about the robot that eats flies to create energy.
For the Q&A session, Professor Alan Winfield’s only rule for asking questions was that we must alternate between women and men. I was very pleased about this as I’ve noticed that men tend to dominate Q&A sessions and I’ve started recording how many men and women ask questions at various events. I wasn’t planning on asking a question but I decided I would when Prof Winfield stated that rule, particularly because I felt I should be directly engaging in the public sphere instead of just sitting back and recording who asks questions.
As an author who writes some science fiction I’m interested in the dialogue between science fiction writers and the people working in the sciences, so I asked Professor Timmis if he reads any sci-fi and if he has any favourite science fiction films or TV shows. He said he loves science fiction and he’s a Stargate, Star Trek and Dr Who fan. He lamented not being able to read science fiction at the moment due to be being so busy. Professor Winfield said he loves the work of Iain M Banks and told the audience about the book Beta-Life, a collaboration between scientists and fiction writers (which I just picked up from my local library). Both Professor Winfield and Professor Timmis commended the skills of fiction writers and were very enthusiastic about collaborations between the sciences and the arts, which was very heartening to hear.
Now excuse me while I fall down a youtube robotics hole before coming up for a bit of air to read Beta-Life.
I’ve entered my short story The Cake Tree into the Inkitt horror competition. The story is about Edissa, a rebellious girl living in a city obsessed with money. The Council cordon off The Cake Tree but Edissa continues to meet her boyfriend there until a local boy’s jealousy leads to a grisly end.
If you like my story please vote for it here by clicking on the small heart at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!
If you want to know more about what inspired the story (local councils, David Cronenberg, Re-animator, the Bible, Shakespeare), head on over to Kirsty Logan’s Thievery page.