In 2014, John Scalzi’s Lock In introduced us to a world drastically changed by Haden Syndrome, a disease that strikes 1% of the population, causing them to become “locked in”: unable to move, but still fully aware of the world around them. The world in Scalzi’s imaginary future adapts to accommodate this population of people. They create programs and infrastructure to allow people with the disease—Hadens—to continue interacting with their family and friends while also creating Haden-specific spaces. The biggest change is the development of mobility robots, called threeps, that allow Hadens to move through the world like the able-bodied.
The main character of the series, Chris Shane, is a Haden as well as an FBI agent. Lock In introduces us to Chris as a brand new agent on a Haden-related murder case. Head On, the follow up to Lock In, brings in the Haden-specific sport Hilketa. Hadens play on teams in specifically designed threeps where the goal is to rip off the head of one random member of each team and score points with it. It’s all fun and games until a Hilketa player is killed on the field. The FBI—Chris and partner Vann—have to puzzle out the reasons behind the death and the panicked response from the fledgling Hilketa league. Was the death a terrible accident or foul play?
Lock In and Head On are fast-paced, entertaining speculative crime thrillers set in the near future. They both extrapolate from our current level of technology and culture to pull us along on a chase to find the resolution to the mystery. But they also use culture in fascinating ways to flesh out the world and make it deeper and more familiar by creating parallels with how we currently interact with technology. Let’s explore some of the ways Scalzi uses current technologies and ideological challenges to inform the world of this compulsively readable series.