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I Belong

Review: Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

LockstepTitle: Lockstep

Author: Karl Schroeder

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: N/A

Publication Date: March 25, 2014

Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages

ISBN-10: 0765337266 (Tor/Macmillan)

ISBN-13: 978-0765337269 (Tor/Macmillan)

Reviewed by: Steph


When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.

Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.

Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.

Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep is a grand innovation in hard SF space opera.

Quick & Dirty: A 17-year-old wakes up from cryo sleep to find the world has passed him by as he slept, and his once beloved siblings now want him dead in this intriguing yet ultimately disappointing science fiction novel.

Opening Sentence: Two bright moons chased each other across a butterscotch sky.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

After entering a hibernated state in order to make a trip to an unnavigated planet, Toby McGonigal wakes up thinking everything is normal. Little does he know his whole life is about to change. When his ship is rescued, Toby discovers that he was asleep for a whopping fourteen thousand years. In that time, the way the world works has completely changed. Apparently, Toby’s mother created something known as a lockstep, where everyone hibernates in a state of cryo sleep for 30 years and then wake up and live their life for a month before entering sleep again. In this way, Toby’s mother figures she can give herself plenty of time to search for Toby. Toby’s brother and sister are now in charge of the government, which would be a good thing, except they’ve put out an execution order on Toby. Now, he has to try and figure out this new world, try to find his mother, and avoid his brother and sister all while keeping his identity a secret. Life may have been a lot less complicated if he had just stayed asleep.

I thought the concept of this book was intriguing. In general, I like science fiction novels, so I was excited to start this one. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I’m not sure if I was just too tired when reading, but I had a very hard time following how the various locksteps worked. Anytime a plot point hinged on understanding how the world worked, I found myself incredibly confused, and it just yanked me out of the story. Again, it may have just been my tired brain refusing to work properly enough to understand the nuances of the locksteps, but I had a very hard time.

On top of that, the book starts off very slowly. Part of it has to do with the book needing to take the time to explain how everything works. Probably around the 20 percent mark, when Toby meets some of the main secondary characters, things pick up a bit. It still often feels like not much is going on, but at the halfway point, everything takes off, and it becomes hard to put the book down. The ending comes a bit abruptly though. I think it would have been nice to have just a few more chapters to wrap everything up in a more cohesive manner.

All in all, this book was very up and down. It had an interesting concept that was hard for me to understand, and while there were great moments in the storyline, there were lots of slow moments too. All of this led to an average rating from me. I may check out more from this author, but not in the near future.

Notable Scene:

And suddenly there were tears in his eyes.

Corva hadn’t known anything about Toby’s father. That could only mean one thing: Dad was dead. Funny thing – Toby had spent the past month knowing this as a fact, thinking that Mother was long gone, too, and Peter and Evayne. Suddenly the others were alive again, but Dad wasn’t and somehow that  made him . . . more than dead. Corva didn’t even know he’d existed.

He was gone, erased from history, and somehow that was so much worse than his simply having died long ago.

Peter, tyrant of seventy thousand worlds? And Evayne, did she know Toby was alive? Had she agreed with this insane order to have him killed? It was all crazy.

He shuffled his way into the little chamber where Corva now lay like a lifeless doll and climbed into his bag. The denner watched him alertly as he zipped the bag up to his chin. “I’m alone,” he said aloud.

A little furry paw tapped him on the cheek. He turned to find himself staring into two golden eyes. His denner was small enough to be the runt of its litter and as lonely, maybe, as Toby.

Toby brought it into the bag, hugging it against his chest, and began to cry. “You need a name. You can’t go to sleep without a name.” Its purr was becoming hypnotic, and as had happened on the boat, Toby felt an answering vibration start deep within himself.

“It’s gotta be good,” he said sleepily. “Not Blacky or Midnight.” He laughed at himself.

He thought about the gods and heroes of ancient mythology, many of whom had come to virtual life in the games he and Peter played. Which of them had gone between life and death? – A lot of those crazy Greeks, actually. Persephone would be perfect, except that she was a woman and this denner was male. Charon, the boatman of the dead? Too bleak.

The song of the denner was all around him now, and he knew its name.

“You’re Orpheus,” he muttered. Orpheus, the hero whose music was so powerful that he used it to lull all the monsters of the underworld into sleep, allowing him to sneak into the afterlife and steal back his dead wife.

“All right, Orpheus. Let’s go see Hades.”


FTC Advisory: Tor/Macmillan provided me with a copy of Lockstep. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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