Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”…including the President’s wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse….
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If you go into this book thinking it’s going to play out along the same lines as Stephen King’s The Stand, you might be disappointed. Until you keep reading, and you find that what you have in your hands is a well written, and pretty original take on the whole ‘androids inhabited by human consciousness’ sci fi future we all know and love.
I thought it was great that the first chapter gave you a brief rundown of the history of the epidemic and exactly what ‘lock in’ and Haden syndrome are. It gave you enough information to get into the story but not too much that you were bored and wanted to give up after 5 minutes. (If you are interested though, at the end of the book there is a whole novella that gives you more information.) I also liked that Chris, the main character, remained a little mysterious through the beginning of the book – you knew he was famous and rich, but you didn’t know why. A lot of the information about the characters was given out slowly, but this made it all the more impactful when Chris’ FBI partner, Leslie Vann, revealed her own history. In fact, that scene was one of my favourites in the book. I also enjoyed the fast pace and the action but I did find it difficult coming to grips with what the different Threeps should look like. For the most part, in my mind they ended up looking like Sunny from I, Robot.
Interestingly, the audiobook comes in two editions; one narrated by Will Wheton and the other by Amber Benson. I think I’m correct when I say that Chris’ gender is never discussed, and because the book is written in first person, the main character could be male or female. Because I enjoy Wheton’s narrations, I opted for him. I’ve now listened to two Scalzi books and have loved both of them, though I’m not really a fan of the extra novellas at the end. Scalzi does sci fi and action with a side of humour and, what can I say, I’m a fan.