Imagine, in the very near future, our world being hit with a medical pandemic unlike anything we’ve experienced in recent history. This influenza-like disease would spread through the world’s population disguised as a common flu. While the overall death toll from the disease would be over 400 million, most would come through unscathed. About four percent of sufferers would be affected with a second stage of meningitis-like inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Those affected by this stage of the disease would experience one of these possible outcomes: 1) death; 2) significant alterations to the structures of the brain, or 3) the complete loss of any/all control of the voluntary nervous system. Those affected by the third problem are perfectly normal and healthy, but cannot communicate with the world outside of their own minds. This condition comes to be known as being “locked in.” Those who are affected by this restriction will come to be known as Hadens (named after the First Lady of the United States, Margaret Haden, one of the earliest and most visible to be diagnosed with the condition). In the U.S. alone, there are almost 4.5 million Hadens.
A medical crisis of this magnitude would have complex and varied repercussions on both global and individual levels. As these changes and challenges ripple through our world, priorities will be reevaluated and resources will be reallocated. Research and development will be thrown into high gear to assist Hadens. Discoveries will be made and instituted. One is the creation of a new virtual landscape where Hadens can “live” and interact with each other and non-Hadens. Another is that those whose brains were altered by the disease, but suffered no other ill effects, can, with some technological assistance, communicate with Hadens. They can even allow those who are locked in to use or inhabit their bodies. Those with this ability are known as “Integrators.” There are less than 100,000 Integrators worldwide.
Becoming and working as an Integrator is rapidly regulated and controlled. The possibility for misuse and abuse is inescapable. Certainly all the steps have been taken to prevent Hadens and/or Integrators from abusing this situation. . .
In Lock In, John Scalzi creates a terrifyingly realistic near-future within which he can explore our current cultural attitudes about healthcare, politics, business, economics, technology and social inequalities. The Hadens who are the result of Scalzi’s global pandemic could easily stand in for any medically disabled group in our current world (if their numbers were high enough in population percentages), and it is interesting to see Scalzi speculate about how our culture would respond quickly to a new type of citizen. By wrapping the story up in a crime investigation, Scalzi has allowed himself enough room to follow the leads across the country and through different social and economic spheres.
The result is an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a good deal more to ponder at the end, than the reveal of of a regular whodunit. Scalzi presents a scenario with features which are chillingly close to current world problems.