For the three and a half of you who don’t know already, Unlocked is the companion novella to Lock In, John Scalzi’s thriller set in a future where Haden’s syndrome leaves millions locked in their bodies, conscious but incapable of voluntary movement. Where as Lock In was a mystery set within this world, Unlocked explains how Haden’s developed and how the technology and culture around Hadens sprang up.
This is billed as an “oral history” and comes across that way. It’s snippets of transcribed interviews. Imagine a documentary featuring mostly expert interviews, minus any connecting narration from a host (which would have been cool). Each part covers a specific aspect of how the world has changed, from the time-course and effects of the disease’s spread to the response of world governments. There are “characters” in the sense that many people get interviewed more than once, and they come across as having somewhat distinct personalities. But I wouldn’t say there are protagonists or antagonists. This is not so much a story as it is a collection of related anecdotes.
Unlocked is more an exercise in glorified worldbuilding than an expansion, prequel, or what-have-you to Lock In. It’s as if Scalzi made a wiki for the Lock In universe and then compressed it into a series of in-character articles. Don’t get me wrong: I love delving into the wikis for favourite series; I’ll spend hours reading TVTropes and Memory Alpha and the Mass Effect wiki. But it’s a different type of reading than reading a novel.
For that reason, I wouldn’t herald Unlocked as an essential companion to Lock In. It’s nice. I bought the Subterranean Press edition, mostly because I like Subterranean Press. Molly Crabapple’s cover is gorgeous, but I’m sad there aren’t any illustrations within the text. Anyway, this book provides more depth into the origins of Haden’s. It gives Scalzi an outlet for showing he Did the Research without infodumping too much in Lock In, and if anything we should just all be grateful for that. I wish more authors took this approach.
If you approach Unlocked with the idea that it’s a companion and an infodump, albeit a cleverly-disguised one, then you’re going to enjoy it. Not on the level that you would enjoy a novel. Similarly, I think you need to retain some interest in the world of Lock In—if you didn’t enjoy the novel, then this isn’t going to change your mind.
There is one thing that makes this stand out from some of its less impressive peers: I got a little teary-eyed. As they were recounting the way that President Haden was grief-stricken for his wife, the way he stayed by her bedside and asked her what he should do, I teared up while reading this at lunchtime at work. I didn’t expect this book to get to me in that way.
So make of that what you will. Unlocked is fun and interesting in its own way. It’s not required reading to enjoy Lock In, but it’s a companion in the same way a fan-wiki might be to other books.