Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lock In: Early Days

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

This 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 perfectly.

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 dicey.

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 offensive.

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. 

1 comment:

Lianna Williamson said...

Sounds fascinating!

I just started Ancillary Sword. Are you reading that one yet?