The group had one of our livelier discussions last night when we met to discuss Lock In by John Scalzi. I will, as usual, try to hit some of the highlights of people had to say (complete with aliases for those who want them):
- Mike started off by saying that he liked the book. He found it a readable story, liked the premise and liked that the author set this in the real world instead of setting everything in the Agora. He also liked how Scalzi covered his bases; any questions that came up for him when reading would be answered a few pages later. He felt the book moved along well, got into some interesting ideas, and the crime was more complex that it seemed at first. His only complaint was that "this is the most inept bunch of FBI agents ever," referring to how they were able to smuggle in a corpse, yet not have anyone posted outside a door or window when trying to catch a suspect.
- Mike also brought up the topic of how Chris isn't assigned a gender, which is something we had some general discussion about. Burt Macklin, FBI, commented that he had listened to one of the audiobooks and told everyone that Scalzi had intentionally had two of them recorded: one by Wil Wheaton and one by Amber Benson. So, depending on which one you listened to, you got Chris as a different gender. This was intentional on the part of the author. Many readers admitted that they assumed Chris was male, mostly because of the way that he spoke. Hola said that she liked how Scalzi does this, and also how, in this world, that LGBT issues don't really seem to be issues at all. Burt Macklin, FBI said that he liked this deliberate choice by the author and how by doing this, he gets away from the usual sexual tension found in the stereotypical work environments where a male and female are partners. Menolly said she had assumed Chris was male because usually, agents seem to be paired up with members of the opposite sex. Greg stated that he wondered how much of this was Scalzi skewing towards the male gender naturally, and was reminded of Charles Sheffield's Proteus. books. He said that the whole concept of identity becomes more amorphorous and that it's defined by what someone brings to it.
- We also had some discussion of the threeps. What do they look like? Some people said they envisioned something from I Robot, although the mention of one in the story looking like the Oscar statuette was a vivid image. Glenn mentioned that although it wasn't in the story, that he expected that law enforcement would have more beefed-up versions. Beyond what they looked like, we talked about the concept in the book of being able to do this kind of neural transference. Some people felt it was a reach to believe this, although it was an interesting idea.
- We also talked about how far in the future that the book is set. Derek said he thought it could be close-ish to now, but Scalzi doesn't include many tech indicators, other than the self-driving cars. Menolly said that she felt this kind of technology is so far off, even with the idea of loads of money and effort being put into it, that the book couldn't be set too close to our own time. She has insight into issues like "lock in," with some of the students that she works with, so it was really interesting to hear about her work right now, and how the technology is in the book (and how incredibly advanced it is). She pointed out that to imagine a neural setup like the one in the story, it's very difficult because there are so many layers of complexity. Mike said that to him, they do refer to how there were enormous amounts of money and resources spent on the technology, however, the development of the tech really isn't the point. Hola agreed with Menolly, mentioning how to us, the brain is such a mystery and we understand so little about it. Greg mentioned that he found the idea of inhabiting bodies and connecting to everything, with very little sense of security on hacking, to be interesting.
- Furry said that for her, she doesn't "care how the warp drive works." Scalzi doesn't give us a date or a time, but it's a good story, and she didn't worry about it too much. Derek stated that's part of the nice thing here: it's science fiction. He said, "Sure, there's some appropriate hand-waving, with lots of money and technology. But good science fiction uses the fiction to re-frame the human questions." He said in this story, it's more about the concept of disability, or the ambiguity of gender. Theresa said that both science fiction and fantasy ask: What if? and then the authors build on that.
- Mike mentioned that what we were really reading here was a on-the-surface police procedural, but we've been talking this evening about everything but the case. He said the procedural seemed like a framework for Scalzi to attach ideas to, which was something that other readers agreed with. Nathan said that he loved this book and that after science fiction, his favorite genre is mystery --- however, he said there wasn't too much mystery here, as there seemed to be only one suspect.
- We had some discusison about how, in this book, the technology used by the Hadens is not something available for anyone else. We talked about how fair/unfair this was, and also how the legislation in the book seemed realistic. We also talked about how the technology made for a divide within the Haden community.
- One of the drawbacks that Burt Macklin, FBI found with the story was there were too many coincidences: Chris just happens to have a roommate who is a computer genius, or the one person he would need to talk to is someone that shows up a dinner party, etc. This was something other readers agreed with.
- Another thing we talked about was brought up Theresa, who asked if anyone else wondered about Chris' spending. She said, "Can you do that in the FBI?" We had some discussion of this as a device to smooth out the story. Derek also pointed out that it has to do with the character of Chris
- Hola mentioned she was frustrated by how Scalzi seemed to have terrible character development. She noted that 95% of the book is dialogue and there's very little description. While this adds to the gender neutrality in the story, it also seemed to be a "Scalzi-ism" of him generally not giving a reader 3-D characters. Mike said that he has noted that Scalzi always seems to go light on describing people and it seems like a deliberate way to make a reader imagine the people, instead. However, Mike said he thought this might be so that the author can concentrate on the other story points --- although he said that when Scalzi does character development, it can be pretty bad. For example, he found the portrayal of Chris' partner to be a stock stereotype (although he felt she was more a foil to bounce off Chris). Derek said that while Chris could pull the "whole debutante thing," that doesn't happen --- although it's funny that Chris winds up spending a ton of money anyway. aNON said that this reminded him of how he liked Asimov books when he was younger, but got tired of them because they were a lot of dialogue and very little action. Here, it's a weakness as well. Ed, however, said that that is something that makes the book work for him. He can figure out where he's at and then see how the concepts get developed. Ed also said that this way, he's able to follow the book (unlike with some authors, where he reaches the end of the book and finds that some concepts still aren't clear). Hola said that she has found with Scalzi's books that there is no subtlety to anything with the characters; "this person is solid/ this person is shady."
- We have read many books by this author, and Furry said that frankly, she was reluctant to read another book by him. However, she found that this story rolled along and was very entertaining. She didn't mind all of the coincidences in the story and said, "This guy can write!" Menolly agreed, saying that Scalzi's books are idea-driven (and not character-driven). Mike also said that he always feels like Scalzi can hook a reader with the very first chapter of any of his books. As Theresa put it, this book seems like a big thought experiment.
Obviously, we had a lot to talk about, and probably could have spent another hour discussing this book (especially because so many people had brought bacon!!) If you would like to continue the conversation, please leave a comment! We gave this book the codes COP, ETH, ROB, RAB, HIT and CAP and the averaged-out rating was a 4.5
And what was the quote of the evening? "Don't stick a fork in him --- he's not done." And also, although we do not currently have any more Scalzi books planned for our discussions, we now know that if we do, it's "6 tables for Scalzi."