REVIEW: Head On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Dear John Scalzi:
John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi’s trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.
Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.
Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.
Is it an accident or murder? FBI agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth?and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.
Dear John Scalzi,
I reviewed the first book in this series “Lock in” here at DA. I had no idea that you were planning to write a sequel, but I was eager to read more about Chris and Leslie’s adventures. I was even more excited when I read that the book would be set in a competitive sports setting – I love those. First and foremost, readers I have to warn you – don’t expect a lot of actual games described on page. Oh, there was a long description of the game in which Duane Chapman died, but that was pretty much it. It’s not a criticism, the story was definitely set in the Hilketa sporting world, but we don’t see much of the actual games, a little bit here and there but, overall, not much at all. I just don’t want readers to develop the expectations I did after reading the blurb.
I’m also not sure if I agree with the blurb characterizing this book as a *stand-alone* follow up to “Lock In”. Yes, the murder investigation definitely stands alone and I suppose the author recaps the world building sufficiently as to not confuse the reader, but I would still recommend reading “Lock in” first to fully understand the world in which this story takes place.
Note that I will be using “she/her” pronoun in relation to Chris even though her gender is not mentioned in the first book. I believe that when I was reviewing “Lock In” I read somewhere that the author did it deliberately and Chris was meant to be a woman. I can’t be one-hundred percent sure Chris was meant to be a woman but, even if her gender meant to be ambiguous, I think it’s fair game to imagine her or any character any way the reader wants. I am used to thinking about her as a woman by now.
We catch up with Chris when she is running late to watch the game with her parents because the Hilketa league really wants her father to invest in league’s upcoming Washington DC franchise.
“I ALMOST MISSED SEEING Duane Chapman die. I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I was running late for the “special exhibition game experience” that I was supposed to be having along with my mother and father.”
Investment opportunity quickly turns into a suspicious accident at Duane Chapman’s death. Certain irregularities that accompanied the “accident” quickly turn it into a murder and then multiple murders. Chris was already on the scene, so she and her partner Leslie Vann assume the lead role in the investigation.
The murder investigation in this story was a very entertaining and fast-moving affair. For me it was a little harder to guess the villain than in “Lock in”, but not terribly difficult. Perhaps the author didn’t want to write a complex mystery, maybe the social commentary behind the suspenseful investigation was the main point of the book. Chris and Leslie once again investigate the world of big business that caters to Haden customers and how that big business adapts after passage of the “Abrams Catering” bill, which cut a lot of medical and other services for people with Haden Syndrome.
I really liked Chris’ voice – just as snappy and funny as it was in the first book. There is also a cat in this book that gets thrown right in the middle of action.
“Then Donut the cat came out of the twins’ room and meowed down the stairs, as if to say, What the actual fuck, humans? The tank threep lashed out, knocking me and Tayla off balance, and lurched up the stairs toward Donut. Donut took one look at the rampaging tank and bolted, running in the direction of my room at the far end of the upstairs. I righted myself and took off up the stairs after the tank, grabbing at its legs.”
As much as I liked Chris’ voice and enjoyed her and her partner not mincing words, I was more than a little disappointed because I didn’t feel either of them got any character development in comparison to the first book. Chris is the POV character, we are in her head all the time; I expected some character growth and, besides her getting more comfortable in her job, I honestly didn’t think (I got much) Scalzi delivered.
I really liked the book, but I concur that this wasn’t one where anything really changed or grew deeper on the recurring character emotional level. But that said, Scalzi has admitted that this was written after the election and he had a REALLY HARD TIME writing after that, so…I’m inclined to cut a bit of slack under those circumstances.
As for the gender, I’ve read that Scalzi says he has no idea what Chris’s gender is and wrote the character neutrally.
For the audio – for both Lock In and Head on there are two versions deliberately-one with a male voice and one with a female voice – so the listener could choose the gender. Having listened to both versions of Lock In – it really is an interesting difference – Just like when you read a books and then listen – you pick up on different things in the story that you missed before.
@Jennifer: Scalzi characters generally tend to sound like Scalzi to me, so I never could imagine Chris as anything but male.
I wonder who translators handle this; some languages make it very difficult to have a gender-neutral character.
Jennifer , if cutting him slack means reading next book in the series ( if he decides to write one of course ) then sure I will be there :). But I can’t exactly not mention what I considered the lack of the character development you know ? I mean I can but I don’t want to – my reviews already suffer by default from sufficient discussion of copy editing issues ( not in this book – in general ), so if I don’t talk about plot and characters there is nothing left to talk about for me :)
Holly oh I didn’t know that – that it is narrated by two different narrators. No as I said Chris is a woman in my head – too late for me to go back .
Rose I am not sure if his characters sound like himself to me. Since he writes them I suppose that is bound to happen at least to a certain degree but I do know that Chris and Leslie did not sound too distinct to me, their voices I mean. I know Chris narrates the story and we only hear/ see other characters from her POV but I did wish Leslie’s voice to be more distinctive.