Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
Pub. date: March 25, 2014
Source: finished copy via publisher (thank you, Tor!!)
Summary: 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.
In high school there was nothing I loved reading more than sci-fi and fantasy. I loved getting swept away in magical worlds and strange new galaxies with totally new lifeforms. Since then, however, I’ve tested out other genres and wound up falling head-over-heels. There’s a part of me that will always love sci-fi though, and the moment I first heard about Lockstep I knew it was something I needed to read. I was more than ready to revisit the genre and the only disappointment is that I’m fully aware of all the fantastic books I’ve been missing out on all these years!
Toby McGonigal’s family was wealthy, but not as wealthy as the trillionaires who controlled the universe. The McGonigals had a respectable planetary claim on Sedna, but there was a small hiccup: to claim a planet every moon had to be visited. Toby was tasked with visiting a tiny hunk of rock further away than any others and in the course of journeying there the ship somehow flew off course.
When Toby woke he discovered he had been missing for 14,000 years. In that time the McGonigal family pioneered the Locksteps – a way of hibernating. Although many millennia had passed, in actuality only 40 years time had elapsed since Toby’s family last saw him. And in that time Toby’s younger siblings grew up…and proceeded to take control of the universe. An entire religion had formed around Toby’s existence – and his prophesied return. This 17-year-old boy is the Emperor of Time and heir to an entire empire. What’s worse: now that his siblings know he’s alive they want him dead.
To cut to the chase, Lockstep was phenomenal! I was hooked from the very first page and loved every minute I spent in this strange new way of living. The people within the Lockstep ‘winter over’ – use special beds to freeze and hibernate – for thirty years at a time and then wake for a month before wintering over once more. Their entire existence relies on this method; trade has been expanded tenfold now that you can get there in what feels like overnight. However, it’s also used as a form of punishment. Certain cities and planets are subject to other frequencies. They might live ten years while other planets have only seen two weeks. Entire families can be torn apart in the blink of an eye – Toby witnesses this firsthand with his own siblings. Peter and Evayne were just kids when he last saw them. Now they’re in their 40s.
Let it be known that I am not a fan of math. No, sir. All these different frequencies started to gnaw on my brain and I had a difficult time wrapping my head around it – but that says more about my lackluster skills than it does about Lockstep. Another thing that confused me was how greatly technology advanced. Totally believable after 14,000 years, but 40..? Not so much. Also, there are hardly any of the ‘original’ colonists left. After only 40 years. But, again, my inability to understand falls on me, not the book.
Toby felt entirely believable and he was simply great. The secondary characters were spot-on too, but I have to say my favorites were the denners. Denners are little cat-like creatures that can act as a cicada bed – these little guys are fully capable of wintering over their owner and it’s this ability that makes them a family of stowaways, criminals, and anyone else who opposes the McGonigals’ iron fist. Although the denners can’t speak, with special glasses (I kept picturing Google Glass), owners can see little icons and emoticons hover above their bodies.
For as much of an emphasis as their was on Toby’s death threats, the climax was a bit anti-climatic. Things Happened and it was all very sitcom-y. I was expecting a giant intergalactic battle and it never came. Despite the Happy Family ending and my NUMBERS ARE HARD mentality, I enjoyed Lockstep! A lot. I’m actually pretty bummed out that it’s now over! I’m not quite sure this book will work for the everyday reader, but if you’re a fan of space operas and hard sci-fi, definitely check out this book!