Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction Novella
Thoughts: This novella is a prequel to Locked In, the next John Scalzi novel, expected to be published in August. It's selling for $1.50 on Amazon.com and other major book sellers, but you can read it for free on Tor's website (see link above).
Unlocked is presented in a documentary style with the facts presented from various points of view. In format, it reminds me of Ted Chiang's Liking What You See: A Documentary. Except, I thought the number of POVs was bit high -- I kept having to scroll back to figure out which name belonged to which person.
The premise itself is pretty interesting. A virus, thought to be influenza, at first, spreads rapidly across Earth. It presents first similar to a flu, then in a second stage, similar to meningitis, and finally results in some patients getting "locked in". What being locked in means is that the person is still conscious and aware, but their body is in a state of complete paralysis.
So, of course, the government tries to find a solution. And the solution they find is a neural network implanted into the person's brain that controls a robotic body. Then the novella proceeds to deal with the various societal changes that this creates.
I felt pretty skeptical about this concept. Implanting a neural network into a brain really doesn't sound like something that would work to me. Nor would they be able to produce robots who can do pretty much anything (e.g. take care of human babies). Also, some of the societal responses seemed pretty strange to me. Instead of controversies about whether the robotic bodies should give up their chairs to human customers, it would have been much more obvious to just charge a cover for their presence. Problem solved for everyone.
It's an interesting "what if" scenario and I generally enjoyed reading Unlocked, but I found a lot of things to poke holes at. And the fact that I am even thinking about those holes means I didn't engage with the characters enough. I might still buy Locked In when it comes out, after all, it's Scalzi, it's bound to be fun.