Friday, March 11, 2016

What Happens When the Awesome Wears Out?:
Lock In at Book Club

In a talk at Google headquarters, author John Scalzi explained his latest best-seller with this grounding concept -- that what interests him about technology isn't "how awesome the technology is is," but "what happens when the awesome wears out."  As when unimaginably amazing technological advances (a tiny powerful computer in your pants pocket) become so integrated into daily life that we become annoyed when it's not working right (no reception on your smartphone -- crisis!!!).

Last Friday, the high school Book Club met to discuss John Scalzi's most recent best-seller,  Lock In.  Surprisingly, even though it's a mystery thriller, none of the discussion points were even remote spoilers -- the plot wasn't the most interesting aspect of the story.

We talked about what happens when the awesome wears off, and about what happens when a former minority or "protected class" of people becomes (or appear to becomes) fully integrated and accepted members of society?  Should supports be continued to level the playing field, or has the playing field been permanently leveled?  What happens when those folks (like the people who were born Hadens and have never known any other kind of existence) choose a completely different field (in the Agora, a virtual universe for Hadens)?

We watched a couple of Scalzi's responses in the Q&A time of his talk at Google.  If you've read Lock In, did YOU notice that the main character, Chris Schayne, is nowhere in the book identified by gender?  Christopher or Christina?  I confess, I didn't notice it at all -- and revealed my dominant paradigm by making Chris male.  As the author asks in his response -- how does thinking of Chris as the other gender change your interpretation of the story?  Does it change how you see the relationships between characters?  The power dynamics?  Chris' unfortunate habit of destroying rental threeps?  If you ONLY interact with people in a form other than the one you were born in, does gender even have any significance?  Given the recent discussions in the junior high and high school of gender identity, expression and fluidity, these are relevant contemporary questions and ones I hadn't anticipated coming from a best-selling sci fi mystery.

The video should start playing at the end of the previous question.
If the embed link doesn't work, click here to view on YouTube.

Another question the author answers is about writing, and whether he'd adapted his style knowing the book would be produced simultaneously in print and as an audiobook (two audiobooks, in fact -- one with a male narrator, and one with a female narrator!)  Check out his answer at minute 37:00 in the video.

And well, just because it exists, we listened to the official Lock In theme song (honest -- the link came from the author's website)

Review on Boing Boing

Scientific American Q&A with author John Scalzi

Want more sci fi?  Try one of these from the Paideia Library . . .

The Caves of Steel  by Isaac Asimov.  Another sci-fi detective novel featuring humanoid robots.  In this one, a technology-averse human cop investigates a murder, which may or may not have been committed by a robot (against all 3 Laws of Robotics).  The film I, Robot is an adaptation of this story, blended with other Asimov robot stories.

Circuit of Heaven  by Dennis Danvers.  His parents have abandoned their bodies (and their son, Nemo) and uploaded their minds to the Bin, a deathless, disease-free cyber-utopia, leaving a dangerous and unpredictable Earth to the crazies and criminals.  Nemo vows to live and die in a real body in the real world -- until he meets Justine, a new citizen of the Bin.

The Lives of Tao  by Wesley Chu.  Roen Tan, a couch potato IT worker, becomes emergency host body to an alien secret agent working to save humanity.  Tao, the alien, has to whip Roen into super secret agent shape before it's too late.

Redshirts, another bestseller by John Scalzi.   What happens when the guys in the red shirts (you know, the ones in Star Trek standing next to Kirk, Spock, Scotty or Bones, who always get eaten, blown up or otherwise obliterated in some dumbhead move?) start to compare notes and figure out there's a pattern to their comrades' demise?

And of course, Book Club's inaugural title from 2013, Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline.