Review: Lock In by John @Scalzi

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I’ve had this one on pre-order for months. I loved Redshirts, also narrated by Wil Wheaton, because the whole book took the piss, it was funny, it was a geek’s wonderland of Star Trek references and it was also short. I had a feeling Lock In was going to be a lot more serious. I was right.

The story is essentially a detective plot with a disabled protagonist who walks around in a body borrowed out of Star Wars (ironically I only got a mental image of what it looked at by listening to the full-cast recording of  Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome which was included as an awesome bonus at the end). The story itself is set in a world like our own but one twisted onto a tangent by a strain of flu which gives people meningitis and locks them into their bodies. Chris Shane is an FBI agent and sufferer, he’s also grown up as the rich kid poster-child for the disease.

Normally I hate rich-kid protagonists but Chris is a likeable guy. He’s down to Earth and doesn’t get pissed off with his new partner ordering him about (because he’s in a virtual body, he can download his consciousness anywhere, which safes on flights and time wasted but it does make him feel almost like a plot device). Because this is first person POV, it helps the narrative and progresses the plot but doesn’t quite break the suspension of disbelief, the reasons for Chris getting to go here and there (and once having to go rent his own Personal Transport, a Threep, out of his own pocket because the official one has been in storage so long it can’t actually move) … well as a disabled person I can empathise. However, if it was me, I probably would have hot someone by the end of he book, Chris does sometimes feel like the Errand Boy who does everything because his partner just can’t be arsed. It’s not that, she has her own problems and how they were handled was done particularly well as well as allowing another viewpoint to understand the main plot.

The only problem with the story is it didn’t go into as much depth about the virtual side of Hadens’ existence, the Agora, the online world where many of them live. But it did focus on some of the more mundane sides to a long-term disability (bedsores, not being able to eat) but with the added bonus that because Chris has a neural net in his head, he can dial down his senses. I can think of a dozen people with Fibromyalgia or Crohn’s who would love that particular ability. In the early sections of the book Chris goes looking for an apartment of his own and the one he looks at  … well it’s basically a closet. The argument is that he’s in a comatose state, how much room does he need to park his body when his threep will be out and about most of the time?

The other aspect of the book which interested me was the attitudes to Haden’s Syndrome sufferers. Hate crime is on the rise, even if the punishments are as severe for hitting/damaging a threep, as they are for actual assault. The prequel discusses this in more detail, looking at how businesses started asking for people in threeps to give up their chairs as they weren’t — being unable to ear to drink — actual patrons. Scalzi’s done his research here and it’s fascinating to see the every day experiences translated into a form that people who don’t have a disability will be able to understand. There were interesting subplots focusing on people without Hadens’ who wanted to use Threeps and arguments that the neural nets could be used in other circumstances aside from those locked in to their own bodies but they were left, hopefully we’ll get a bit more if there’s a second book or a series.

The narration remains top-notch. I went for the Wheaton version but there is a second edition narrated by Buffy actress and geek Amber Benson. The audio version is excellent and my personal dislike of the constant use of ‘said’ (Journalist and Author Me understand why Scalzi does it, he’s old school and that’s fine) is muted this time round. The dialogue is paced well the story flows well, the world-building is excellent and if Scalzi doesn’t write another book set in this universe, I shall be very unhappy. It’s one of the best books I’ve read (or, erm, listened to) this year and well worth the wait. What we see of this universe is enough and it’s so nice to have a strong disabled protagonist, who doesn’t actually seem to think of himself as disabled but acknowledges he’s not the traditional everyman either.

Awesomeness all round I think.

The Changing of the Sun: The paperback cover and the launch details!


Words just can’t do this justice! Jason has done truly stupendous work!

The Changing of the Sun will come out on 7th October in paperback and Kindle. However while you can pre-order the e-book now, I’m asking people to instead wait and back my next Kickstarter, for The Parting of the Waters, instead. For the price of a print pledge, you’ll get the e-book for free and I’ll ship signed copies of Whispers and Changing as soon as the Kickstarter funds and concludes in November.

Here’s a closeup of the back … because it has the full blurb on it:

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So I got inked today …

Screenshot 2014-08-26 18.58.16I’ve been hankering after another tattoo for a couple of months. I’m making it a semi-annual thing to celebrate birthdays, wisdom and book launches (The Changing of the Sun is coming out on 7/10/14).  I went into Indigo last week, expecting a decent wait but, no, my usual tattooist (so apparently I have one of those now), Heather who did my first tattoo last year, was free this afternoon. A small deposit later and it was set in stone.

The tattoo is of the chemical formulae for serotonin and dopamine (lacking the first makes you depressed while the second makes you happy). Given my jumps between chronic depression and the odd, sweet ten days of mania (the last of which was in February, smack bang during my Kickstarter), the choice of tattoos seemed appropriate. The tattoo itself projects outward (so the formulae are read from my wrist towards my palm) which seemed right. I’m advertising my ability to survive dizzying highs and crushing lows and still be sane at the end of it. Or semi sane, anyhow.

These took twice as long as my first tattoo and they hurt. I have a lot of scar tissue on that wrist (a mix of some stupid people deciding to draw arterial blood and tubes shoved into my when I was a tiny, wee premie baby). Once Heather moved up my arm, away from the nerves and veins, it wasn’t so bad but I was still glad when it’s over. I’m already thinking about next year’s, possibly on the back of my neck, and I have my eye on an enso but not the traditional complete circle, more the semi-finished version (just not quite this big!).

Tales From Pennsylvania gets a Gurley cover!

10608412_4328128379000_1199562081462345374_oI had a sneaking feeling this was going to happen purely because the collective authors all seem to have called shotgun on the Amish woman on the original cover as their character. I still say it’s Hanna from my short story “The Barn That Hanna Built” but it’s moot now.  I might be an S (damnit) but I’m still in good company and you know what the best part was, aside from this being a gorgeous Jason Gurley cover. This:

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That bit about Gordian, it’s my story!!! YAY! Who is Gordian? Well you’ll have to see but the story is, according to the slightly biased Mr. Bunker (whose surname has a B in it and so is first on the billing … wait a second …!) is ‘fan-fucking-tastic’ and ‘the best thing’ he’s read in ages. I got to mix my love of geekery with Greek mythology AND a little history boot.

There’s not a firm release date yet aside from ‘Fall’ and ‘Black Friday’ which he informs me is in November. I do know, however, that there will be print editions (well yeah, duh,) as well as e-book and I can’t wait to have a copy to go on my shelf. Plus I want to read everyone else’s stories (I’ve read two I think, so far, and they’re excellent). Oh and there’s going to be an audiobook too!

Here’s the full e-book cover. Check out those names! So many great writers … and, erm, me.


If you’re keen on more info, I’d suggest joining the AZ on Facebook as it’s the place for all things to do with Amish sci fi or just keep your eyes peeled to Michael’s site for those who don’t do Facebook.

P.T. and Silent Hills

Excuse me while I drool ...

Excuse me while I drool …

I sometimes forget I’m a gamer … my depression and medication means I seldom have the patience to play games anymore. I’m not at the point of selling my consoles but I have started watching a lot of ‘movies’ of cutscenes and gameplay and walkthroughs which seem to be all the rage now you can upload a lot more than ten minutes worth of footage to YouTube. I tend to ignore most of GamesCom (too many bad memories of doing press conferences to deadline with a shitty livestream) but then I heard about P.T. and that it was actually a new trailer for the game Silent Hills.

With Norman Reedus, game legend Hideo Kojima and movie maestro Guillermo Del Toro attached … yes please!

I love Silent Hill, I love the mythology, I love the storytelling, I love the idea … P.T. is terrifying. I mean that. I watched a walkthrough this morning (and this post on Kotaku started it off), slack-jawed for twenty five minutes and the mix of the uber-creepy soundtrack with a foetus in a sink, a ghost called Lisa with a gouged out eye and multiple loops of the same house but each with differences a la The Room. Yes please.

Silent Hill, way back when, was the reason I bought a PSOne. Two remains my favourite and I imported 4: The Room (Worst. Game. Ever) from Japan.  I haven’t been so keen to play a game in ages and be scared doing it. I used to be quite a gaming conspiracy nut (particularly for Siren) and my gut says that the title is hinted at by the trailer, that we’re probably going to be visiting multiple versions of the infamous town but then that has always been a hallmark of the series. Also that is the best render of a living actor I’ve seen in a while. In the meantime check this out and please don’t be platform-locked, I really don’t want to buy a PS4.

Winter is coming

2014-08-16 13.27.20I can smell it in the air, taste the change in the seasons. This is only made more obvious by the fact there are blackberries on the hedge and the Lovely Baristas have started using the phrase PSL in sentences. Oh and I just got out my winter boots and retired my sandals for the year.

I don’t like winter, I hate the cold and the snow but most of all I hate the darkness, the way the nights draw in. The cats are still out for most of the day but D in particular is being very snuggly, which only means doom is on the horizon. Worse he keeps trying to help me write by sitting on me or by my mouse hand.

My anaemia is back with a vengeance which is not helping. My iron tablets feel like they’re actually made up of shards of glass and not … well iron. I am endeavouring to eat proper meals (usually burgers or one-pot roasts or just eating out) but it’s hard when you’ve got £30 a week to live on. That amount sounds stupidly harsh but I’m trying hard to get out of debt and so this is necessary if I plan to be out of it by Yule. It doesn’t help that August means bill season … I have my ground rent to pay (£150), then my service charge (£400) and, somewhere between that the last of the Kickstarter money goes to Jason, along with an extra £150 to various miscellaneous places to cover backer regards. It just feels like a little too much.

The rent bill came this morning and they want a cheque, of all things. I don’t have a chequebook so I need to ring the management company to find out other payment options (they must have some facility to accept BACS, they must) or see about getting a chequebook ordered. I don’t think I have time so am hoping for the easy option, plus I really hate cheques. I had my first once bounce last week (not one I’d written, I hasten to add) and I’ve never had that happen. I actually had to check with my branch to make sure I wouldn’t be charged for it, even though it wasn’t my fault. The silly things you now have to check but if I don’t, my brain won’t switch off and small uncertainties like that will drive me mad.

I hate depression. It sounds silly but depression isn’t helped when it’s splashed over every newspaper and new site on the net. Depression is bad enough but being forced to think about suicide because the news outlets have no shame and are revelling in the juicy details of someone’s passing because it’s in the public interest. Eugh. Getting drunk hasn’t helped (not that I expected it to though) and I’m now on the max dosage of my anti-depressants, which don’t feel like they’re helping either. The problem is that as long as you don’t dwell on the darker thoughts, you can cope. Once people start talking about suicide, it becomes really hard to ignore the thoughts and not tip yourself into an even deeper, darker hole.

She looks like she's having fun and she's earned it!

She looks like she’s having fun and she’s earned it!

On the same front I’ve been battling the selfish voice in my head all week, the one which goes ‘oh so you’ve coped without your guide dog? Why do you need her then?’. It’s a simple matter of we needed a break, she deserved a holiday and I still don’t regret hugging the Lovely Barista who, instead of asking where Uni was, asked me how I was doing and what I was up to. I get so used to being the invisible woman holding the dog that it was nice to be asked, even if my answer is often on the sugar-coated side. I have missed her, my wrist hasn’t, but I have. I went to lunch, chatted with friends and haven’t needed to constantly go outside into the cooling air to let a canine out to pee. That alone is wonderful, the escalators just seal the deal.

The nice thing is I think I am going to make this whole ‘Uni having a holiday’ a regular thing. My desire to get on a plane and go somewhere sunny is tied into the depressing knowledge winter is, indeed, coming. I want to go to the States and Ian and his wife (who have Uni) seem happy to a) take her for a decent period and b) give her back, though I might have to fight them for her. Today she’s ‘working’ doing collections at a supermarket which I know she’ll love. Uni is at heart a tart and so the chance to be fussed over is never something she’ll pass on. She’s back Monday and it will be nice, the cats have been ruling the roost way too much since she’s been away. D, in particular, has forgotten his place in the household hierarchy and needs reminding.

On the book-related front, things are going okay except the whole process is stressing me out. Ellen and I are double proofing the e-book at the moment (it made more sense to do a final pass before the book was actually made into an e-book) but we’ve come across some glaring mistakes, and half a chapter which got moved from place A to place B and needs to be restored. It’s driving me nuts but I promised Ellen I’d not worry about it if she just let me get it placed where it needs to be. I spent Thursday and Friday reading, dismaying over a number of missing dingbats and having to remind myself no human is perfect. Jason does an awesome job, so does Marina, so does Ellen and it will be okay in the end. I just need someone to keep pushing me towards the light at the end of the tunnel because I can never, ever see it.

Everything is just getting to that point where I want to cry, or bury my head in the sane or just quit for a week. My muse has wandered off and most of it feels more to do with me than just a lack of inspiration. It’s been hard to write anything this morning and inspiration was there, until I read one of my trunk novels and despaired. I know it will be okay the day the proofs arrive and that the expenditure will be worth it. I’ve been worked out how much left I have to come in this year and it’s actually more than I need to clear my debt, eat and exist. This year Yule is going to be an orgy of nothingness and party food with no guilt or a need to do anything but wave 2015 in.

So, tonight I have a reflexology treatment booked and tomorrow I plan to be in the city early, with a steaming Reverse Mocha, and the peace and quiet which comes with Sunday morning in the city. Monday will sort itself out and things, as always, could be much worse than they actually are. I just have to cling on that that obvious realisation and wait for things to improve.