Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

Synopsis: 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.

Review: I love Science Fiction and I am thrilled that young-adult sci-fi is exploding. And even if dystopian fiction is a big segment of this genre, authors still come to writing it from other angles.

In this matter, Lockstep does not disappoint. It is quite unique, with a really fascinating concept at its core. In the Lockstep system, people use hibernation periods to lower resources use. The inhabitants usually slumber for 30 years and are then awake for a month. And while they sleep, robots maintain the cities and gather enough resources to sustain the humans when they wake. As planets in the same network (Lockstep) are linked by the same schedule of hibernation, the system is also a way to synch the long travel time between worlds and facilitate trade.

So there is “real time” and then there is “Lockstep time“. It is a great concept, once you are able to figure how it works. In itself it is not very difficult to understand, but the author keeps adding elements making everything a lot more complicated. What about planets operating outside the Lockstep schedule? Or with a different sleep/awake ratio? And when Karl Schroeder states that time has passed, is it in real time or Lockstep time? …

See? It can become really confusing. But the good thing is that the narrator is a boy as confused as the reader. Being out of time, Toby experiences the same difficulties to grasp everything. It allows the author to introduce his system one piece at a time without too much overwhelming the reader.

And anyway, I loved playing with this idea and its implication. So does Karl Schroeder I guess. Too much perhaps, because the story seems sometimes just a pretext to develop the world building. The plot has some pacing issues – feeling to slow in some places and concentrating on descriptions and explanations. I was interested in seeing what would become of Toby and his friends, but never excited about where all of this was going. Besides, I found the characters a bit flat and never quite connected with them. Toby and Corva, for example are too passive for my taste, reacting to the events instead of acting.

To summarize: Lockstep has a great world building. There are some really interesting ideas in it, making the book worth reading. Even if the concept is sometimes a bit confusing, it is still nothing short of fascinating. Sadly, the author failed to create the same excitement regarding the characters and the story. I really enjoyed it, but I think it could have been more.


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19 thoughts on “Lockstep by Karl Schroeder

  1. I actually have this for review and I’ve tried to read it but I couldn’t get into it but I think that’s just me not being a science fiction reader that much that I did get confused. But after your reading your review, I feel like I should give this book another shot. I don’t mind confusing books just as long as they made a NSE in the end and it looks like this did. Added to the fact that the world building is fascinating. Lovely review, I would have to go back to this book again!

  2. Ohh, definitely an interesting concept, imagine being a sleep for 14,000 years! It would probably confuse me since most sci-fi is over my head anyway, watching, I’m fine. Reading it? Nope, I guess when it’s over explanatory and stuff like that it just bores me. Sounds like you enjoyed it though, even if it isn’t perfect. 🙂

    • Perhaps not a book for you then. The concept is indeed as fascinating as it is frightening. But even if I enjoyed playing with the idea, I found the book sometimes a bit over explanatory.

  3. I think this one turned out to be too much for me – I love sci-fi, but when it gets too heavy, the processes and systems in it get to be too overwhelming. I enjoyed the lockstep idea immensely, but the more I read about it the more questions I had, and there were just so many variables! I just don’t think my brain was equipped to handle all that, lol!

  4. My friend Tina read this recently and she definitely didn’t enjoy it. I think the system just sounds odd and the premise while sounding good I think would be hard to deliver. I do have a copy though and maybe I’ll get to it someday. I’m glad that you enjoyed it because that definitely gives me hope.

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