Review – Lock In

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziLock In, John Scalzi

I generally find Scalzi’s work fun, very readable, but maybe not too thought provoking, not too serious. This managed to combine that sci-fi fun feel with serious issues of disability politics, racial politics, gender — well, all kinds of identity politics, really. It helps to read Unlocked if you’re not very good at picking up context quickly, though I don’t think it’s necessary; it gives you a lot of background, and even a starting point for imagining the characters.

I would actually be interested in listening to the audiobook for this, because Scalzi avoided stating a gender for Chris Shane. Thus, there are alternate readers — Will Wheaton and Amber Benson. The existence of the two versions meaning that I don’t really consider this a spoiler! Particularly as it’s not germane to the plot: it’s a thing outside the plot that will affect your reading, because you’re almost inevitably going to choose which gender you assign to the narrator in your head unless you’re used to queer communities. Personally, I chose to read Chris Shane as female if I could. I ended up reading them as something more nebulous: if you grow up spending most of your time outside your physical body (in the Agora or in a threep, it doesn’t matter which), are you going to think of gender in the same way as embodied people do? I don’t think we can answer that with modern technology, but I think the answer might be no, and that’s how I read Chris.

In a way, this fits right into a tradition with Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, which is a mystery as much as it’s a sci-fi story, and which relies intimately on both elements to make the full story (rather than being a mystery story that happens to be in a science fiction world, or vice versa). And because one character is walking around in an artificial body and the other isn’t, and with some of the political issues. (Ask me another day how I react when Hawking says a robot uprising might destroy humanity, everyone reports it as news, and nobody wants to listen to the sci-fi fan in the corner yelling “Isaac Asimov got there first!”)

Ahem. Anyway, Scalzi keeps his lightness of touch here, despite all the issues that he explores; it remains intensely readable, a page turner, and something that can suck you in enough that you forget about your surroundings. And I love that it’s based on all sorts of real situations: some people are ‘locked in’, we are finding solutions like the ones here for them (my New Scientist this week has a cover story: “Out of the Twilight Zone: Portable mind-reader gives voice to the locked in”), there were epidemics like this before (the closest analogue being the flu epidemic closely followed by the sleeping sickness epidemic)… These are not concerns only relevant in a hypothetical science fictional world.

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is ‘ten books I’d love to read with my book club’. I am a member of an awesome group for SF/F, so that’s easy — except that we’re quite particular about the sorts of books we end up reading for discussion. So hmmmm.

  1. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. This is kind of cheating, because we are discussing it. And actually, I’m supposed to be leading it.
  2. Mélusine, Sarah Monette. Because it’s so different to The Goblin Emperor! (It’s the same author under a pen name.) And it’s a bit more dark than I’d normally go for; I need some impetus to get on and read it.
  3. Century Rain, Alastair Reynolds. Or really anything by Reynolds; I used to like his work a lot, though I haven’t read any in a long time, and Century Rain was my favourite.
  4. Lock In, John Scalzi. We’re planning to read this anyway, but it does sound fascinating. We normally enjoy Scalzi, and this sounds like there’s a fair amount to chew over here.
  5. Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, Kelly Sue DeConnick. Because hey, I love this series and I want to share it. And talk about how it could be even better and all the places we wanna see Carol go.
  6. Just about anything by Octavia Butler. I think we’ve probably already discussed some of Butler’s work, but it’s all great to talk about (and sometimes problematic, too, in ways that would make it even more interesting to bat it back and forth).
  7. The Unreal and the Real: Collected Stories, Ursula Le Guin. It’s most often Le Guin’s short stories that I find I want to discuss and pick apart to make sure I really understand them.
  8. The Just City, Jo Walton. And we probably will, since we’re big fans of Jo.
  9. Under the Skin, Michael Faber. I’ve been convinced to buy it, so let’s discuss it. I think someone in the group actually suggested this one, too.
  10. Anything by Ian McDonald. I think they might’ve discussed one of his books without me at some point, but I’ve read a couple of his older ones that’re really interesting too.

What about you guys? Any reading groups online to recommend?

Review – Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome

Cover of Unlocked by John ScalziUnlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, John Scalzi

This novella gives a lot of the background for Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In. I was in kind of a reading funk, so I thought I’d try reading something short to whet my appetite for Lock In — or just fiction in general, really. It worked for me: I know what effect Scalzi is going for, and he manages to hit the sweet spot between being too technical and too much like a documentary, and offering glimpses of character (like the President) and an idea of the kinds of things in play when you get to Lock In.

He gets the form pretty well, and while I don’t know much about the technology he suggests, I didn’t see anything completely impossible about the biological aspects of Haden’s syndrome. It pretty obviously draws on the Spanish flu of 1918 and the roughly concurrent encephalitis lethargica epidemic. There are separate diseases which produce the effects Scalzi posits for Haden’s syndrome, he just has them combined — with a suggestion that they have been deliberately combined.

Overall, it can be quite a dry read if you’re not interested in that kind of background, but I am. Still, it’s lacking in real narrative and urgency because of the post-facto documentary nature of it.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday Thoughts: Social Media

Today’s Thursday Thoughts from Ok, Let’s Read is about social media:

Have you ever connected with an author through social media? Do you think it’s important to have things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a blogger, reviewer or author? Why or why not? How do you think social media has progressed and changed the bookish world in recent years? And, now for a fun question: Are there any authors who’s Twitter feed you just can’t get enough of?

I have connected with authors through social media, quite a lot. I tend to follow authors I like or who say interesting things on Twitter, so I do actually discover new books through Twitter sometimes. I met Jo Walton through LiveJournal, and after a couple of years chatting on there, I met her in person a couple of weeks ago and spent the day with her and a lot of other people. So that was pretty cool. I’ve also got some authors on Facebook and stuff like that — Chris F. Holm is on my FB list after he linked to a post here and kindly added me so I can read the discussion, and I follow him on Twitter, etc. It can be a really good tool for just getting brief but meaningful and non-stressful interactions with authors: I’ve had back and forths with Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, Joanne Harris, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin… It’s great. Some interactions have been more positive than others (Nnedi Okorafor and I didn’t completely get on), but it’s always interesting.

I think it helps to have at least one social media account, to boost your profile a bit and give you another medium to talk, maybe less formally than in a blog post. Instagram seems less important to me, and I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but Twitter and the ability for people to RT my reviews is great, plus there’s plenty of competitions for ARCs and so on that go on via social media. Goodreads and LibraryThing are also good ways to connect with other book reviewers, and a lot of the reviewers I follow are still on those platforms — I transitioned to my own blog because I disagree with some GR policies, and didn’t want them to have my content exclusively, plus it wasn’t a good place for posts like this. It’s also better to have your own blog for getting ARCs, and you can’t really do blog tours on GR or LT, so there’s that as well.

It does change the way the book world works in some ways, for those who do interact with authors on social media, and for authors who interact on social media. Sometimes I think authors do themselves a disservice by airing their opinions hastily (or sometimes at all) on Twitter. Sometimes authors really promote their work that way, though.

As for authors whose Twitter feeds I can’t get enough of, there’s obviously John Scalzi, who is usually smart and pretty much always hilarious, and Kameron Hurley, because I enjoy her blog posts and her thoughts on pretty much everything. N.K. Jemisin often has smart things to say and interesting links, too.