I remember when I saw the cover for Lock In the first time. My interest in the book died almost immediately. In an age when lots of people start reading mostly in electronic form, covers shouldn’t have the same power as they did in the past, but as far as promotional material go, they still send one of the most important marketing messages what kind of reader and segment a book is coveting and what kind of material you can expect inside.
When I actually read the book, it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a murder mystery that grows into a full-blown conspiracy, but it’s also a science fiction book that shows a world where people using surrogate artificial bodies makes lots of sense. Imagine Surrogates, the bad science fiction movie starring Bruce Willis with a similar theme, only this time done by someone who actually thought this idea through and came up with a better reason than people want to look young again (usually that’s a good reason, but most people want to look young in their own body, not some surrogate).
That said, while I liked the book a lot, Scalzi’s usual writerly ticks are present all the time. The book keeps one tone throughout, from start to finish, that of an amused observer. The dialogue is snappy and fun, the main character is sharp and witty most of the time, but while this works often, it undercuts the book when more seriousness or even horror would be appropriate. At times the tone feels almost disrespectful and frivolous. And some of the stuff that the two main inspectors discover is stuff that would be utter nightmare fuel for a lot of people, but the book never manages to convey the full horror of that.
Another problem is Scalzi’s tendency to have endings that are too perfect. Everything ends tidy and neat, with a bow on top. It’s not just a problem for the ending, though, the narrative is highly leveraged to get the biggest effect at the cost of breaking the suspension of disbelief a few times. New friends turn out to be experts needed to solve the case, new allies have a problem that turns into the perfect solution to solve one of the major issues at the end. There’s Chekhov’s gun and then there’s its Data Center-sized equivalent. Subtlety is not one of Scalzi’s strengths.
Still, I really enjoyed the book overall and wouldn’t mind to visit this world again. The setting is different and unique, even if some of the elements feel like old-fashioned science fiction, slightly updated. And the main character was fun to follow, even if his personality felt a bit slight. Like a lot of Scalzi’s books it leaves you with the feeling that it could be even better with some more substance (both stylistically and character-wise), but even as it is, it’s pretty good.