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Bookends: Body Shifting Suspects make for a Difficult Case January 31, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Body Shifting Suspects make for a Difficult Case

By Dan Davidson

September 21, 2016        lock-in

– 870 words –
 

Lock In

By John Scalzi

TOR Books

336 pages

$10.99

 

The science fiction field has a long history of crossing over into the mystery field. One of the earliest obvious practitioners of crossover writing was Isaac Asimov, whose three novels featuring the detective Elijah Bailey took the murder mystery to outer space in an obvious way. Outside the field Asimov produced six volumes of short stories about a mystery discussion group he called the Black Widowers.

Other SF writers frequently “ghosted” in well-known series. “Ellery Queen” was already a pen name for two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, and several SF writers – Theodore Sturgeon and Jack Vance, among others – wrote some of the later entries in the series.

John Scalzi seems determined to write every sort of SF related book that he possibly can, and has done an excellent job of following in that tradition, creating a future world shaped by a pernicious disease, and a murder mystery that has everything to do with that disease.

Some years from now a new, highly contagious virus appears. Like the zica virus, most people who catch it have just a few days of fever and misery, but it has other mysterious effects on some peoples’ brains. One per cent of its victims find themselves “locked in”, closed off from all voluntary motor functions and sensory inputs – fully awake but truly isolated from the world. They call it Haden’s Syndrome, mostly because the wife of President Haden is one of the victims.

Partly because of this connection, and because a good number of the victims come from wealth, an effort is made to find a way for these disconnected brains to access the world. The solution is to create robot surrogate bodies and implant in the brains hardware and software that allow people to interface with these bodies and “live” in the world again.

This is somewhat similar to the gimmick used in the Bruce Willis movie, “Surrogates”, except that most of the artificial bodies are not so cosmetically perfect.

One other, rare, side effect of the virus is that a very small percentage of Haden’s sufferers come out undamaged, but, with the installation of matching hardware and software in their craniums, are able to share their bodies with those who are locked in. They are called Integrators.

Chris Shane is Haden’s survivor from a wealthy family who has been locked in since he was a child. He was one of the first to use a surrogate, which are known as “threeps”, in honour of a very famous golden robot in an old movie. Tired of being the poster child for Haden-kind, he has taken up law enforcement as a career. He has been partnered with a difficult experienced cop named Leslie Vann, who has many secrets in her background.

Their first case together involves the murder of an Integrator, who may have been killed by another Integrator. The problem is that the apparent murderer doesn’t remember a thing about it. He was being “ridden”, as they call it, by someone else at the time, and while he’s supposed to be aware of everything his rider does, he has no memory of how he came to be in that hotel room with that dead man.

I spent some space on the social background of this story because it spoiled nothing to do that, and you need to understand that it’s entirely possible that some of the people you meet may not be who they seem to be at any given time in the book. All that is clear from the outset is that this is a Haden related crime, probably committed by a Haden person.

Means, motive and opportunity are much harder to pin down when your suspect might in any one of several threeps at any given time, or be integrated with another actual human some of the time.

In that sense the book reminded me very much of Asimov’s Bailey novels, in which the sociology and psychology of the places where the crimes occurred had so much to do with why and how they occurred.

Shane is the first person narrator of this story, and the fact that he is not moving about in a flesh and blood body didn’t come clear for me until I was a chapter or so into the story. There was certainly something odd about him, but I couldn’t pin it down until some of the expository dialogue made it clear. After that, I adjusted, and just sort of forgot about it, until he had an internal conversation with the caregiver looking after his body at home, or shifted bodies, or crossed the country in an eyeblink (more shifting) in order to follow up clues.

It’s not a simple mystery so it gives you lots to puzzle about and the future setting keeps you just off base enough to give the writer the edge in hiding some things from you along the way.

I continue to be impressed with Scalzi, who first came to my attention about six years ago and has yet to disappoint.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

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