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Friday, August 8, 2014

“Lockstep” by Karl Schroeder (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “LockstepHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

I'm not normally a hard science fiction reader, but the premise of Karl Schroeder's latest novel Lockstep intrigued me. Then I started reading and it sucked me in.

So for those of you who are likewise not normally into hard SF, Schroeder does a good job of explaining the hard science aspects without writing down to the reader, which is a tricky balance to pull off. I do think he went overly detailed into world-building aspects that weren't really necessary for the plot, but I think that's also a target audience issue as well (in that that's not what I'm looking for in a novel, but many hard SF readers would).

What I loved most is that Schroeder fully explores the implications of his core conceit thoroughly. We understand how and why this technology came into existence, he convinces us of the plausibility of it and also its advantages, and then he explores just about every way it can go wrong or be abused. But he doesn't stop there: this isn't a dystopian outlook on the future, because the next step is what people can do to fix it, not by getting rid of the technology entirely, but by changing society. He goes deeply into the implications in politics, economics, and technology (though he mostly ignores anthropology in world-building outside of societal structures, there's so much else going on that didn't bother me much). Given the recent spate of dystopia in SFF, I really enjoyed his approach to the future that goes beyond abuses and into actively thinking about how we can shape our world.

I appreciated a teenage protagonist that is both smart and mature even with adolescent concerns, and the family dynamics were really interesting. It did feel like the characters acted because the plot needed them to make those choices, though, rather than acting like actual people. And our protagonist somehow never gets around to asking questions until he's in a situation when the person he's asking has an excuse to cut him off, which felt like a very blatant way to pace exposition. As much world information as he needs to convey to the reader, it definitely needs to be paced, but the problem is that the plot is full of twists that the reader has no way to predict because we never have the information soon enough. Not having the opportunity to put together the clues does keep the reveals surprising, but it also keeps the reader more outside of the narrative than engaged in the plot.

So despite some character and plot bumps, the exploration of the ideas and setting was strong enough to carry me through to a satisfying conclusion. I'll definitely be looking up more of Karl Schroeder's work.

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