I'm on an incredible roll with "issue" books. Not just YA, either, but books that are just all about making you think about Big Subjects and the Meaning of Things. There are a few in the pipeline right now; the one I want to talk about here is John Scalzi's Lock In.
one, more than any other recently, is explicitly an issue book--that
is, the plot is secondary to exploring in detail a world in which the
issue is played out. The idea here is that some small but significant
percentage of the population--3%, maybe?--has been affected by an
illness that results in "lock in," a state in which the brain cannot
control the body whatsoever, though the mind continues to function
The illness, Hayden's syndrome, strikes
across class barriers, and money is no protection, meaning that there
are just as many well-off Hayden's sufferers as poor. The book takes
place 20 years after the beginning of the epidemic, and technology has
caught up with the needs of this new class--neuroscience and robotics
allow Haydens to participate fully in society. But a new law is ending
government support for these people, and the political situation is
So that's the setup, and then you have this novel
about Chris Shane, a Hayden from a wealthy family whose father is
running for the Senate and who has just joined the FBI's squad dealing
with Hayden-related crimes. There's been a murder, and there are
political overtones, and etc.
Okay, so the summary is
interesting and all, but I'm only about a third of the way into the book, and besides, I hate summaries. They either give things away or
they bore me to tears), But the thing I'm finding interesting is all the
ideas here, sociological and political. The first thing that jumps out
is the tension between the people who are working to cure Hayden's and
bring those who are locked in back into control of their own bodies, and
those who consider the notion that they need to be cured insulting.
This reminds me very much of things I've read about the Deaf community,
and the idea that seeing it deafness as a handicap or disability is
Now, it's not a perfect comparison. A Deaf
person can participate fully in the community--particularly the Deaf
community--with relatively little support. A Hayden needs to have his
or her body taken care of constantly, needs complicated and expensive
surgery to be able to interface with a robotic "threep," and needs a lot
of technology to interact with the world. The fact that all of these
things are free from the government, while exactly the world I would
like to live in, seems kind of unlikely in a United States that doesn't
even have real universal health care.
Then again, the
idea that non-normative bodies and abilities and ways of being in
general are not defective is a big one in the world today, one that I
wish I was able to incorporate more deeply into my own thinking. I have
very entrenched notions around "right" and "wrong" ways to be, and
while I can look at those notions and disavow them, on a gut level I
react to things as though there's a right way to be, a best way to act.
(Hint: I'm usually doing it wrong.) Anyway, so this is pressing some
of my own buttons, even though in theory I am behind the politics of the
Hayden's radicals here.
Even more interesting,
though, is when the political gets personal. Our protagonists's father
has made his career as an advocate for Haydens, trying to make the world
see them as people, but it's not easy. Shane faces small prejudices,
microaggressions, "no offense" moments, and awkward conversations.
Shane handles it with grace, barely even seems to register these
moments, but as they pile up, you as a reader begin to get the slightest
feeling of what it's like to live in the position of walking around as a
special interest citizen.
Oh, here's another thing--I
have no idea if Chris Shane is a man or a woman. The book is told in
the first person; a threep has no gender. I'm actually listening to an
audiobook, which is read by Amber Benson, and a female reader often
implies a female protagonist--but there's another version of the
audiobook read by Wil Wheaton, so that doesn't really help.
Now, Ancillary Justice
might have primed me for really not worrying about my protagonist's
gender, but this does bring up another issue, which is sex. So far,
Shane's sexuality has not come up at all. I have to assume it'll come
up--I mean, how can you have a whole society of people who have
normal-feeling bodies that they can't move and not address their sexual
feelings, or even romantic ones. But I've noticed the absence of
information around this subject, and I'm hoping it's something that will
come out soon.
Not because I need romance in the
story, but because if you're going to sell me a book that depends so
heavily on a cultural, political, and anthropological examination of a
society in which X is a factor, you really need to touch on all basic
human needs--food, shelter, work--sex.