Maze Runner series so I've kept an eye out for new projects from him. I was intrigued by the premise between The Eye of Minds (even if the title left me a little confused). To some degree the story shares commonality with quite a few books and movies that have come out over the years. While it leverages a lot of similar ideas in terms of the way the technology works the book still takes the plot and the mechanics in a fresh and fun new direction.
The high level plot puts us in a future where technology has advanced to the point of having a hyper-real virtual reality game called VirtNet. The VirtNet involves gamers lying down in a technologically advanced sort of sensory deprivation box (lovingly called the "coffin" by gamers). Once inside the box, the gamers are locked away from the real world and are quite literally plugged into the VirtNet via a series of tubes and wires. The technology directly plugs into the gamer's mind and provides very realistic sensations to the point of literally triggering muscle response. It accounts for necessary bodily functions, provides a certain degree of nutrition and support but also allows the gamer to physically experience the sensation of many of the virtual events they experience. In other words, the gamer will feel pain. The only limitation is that within the VirtNet if the gamer "dies", they respawn in the system and their body does not die.
As the book opens and we fall into the plot, we learn that a cyberterrorist named Kaine is hacking his way through the VirtNet to capture and manipulate gamers and has found a way to remove the failsafes and cause serious real world physical damage to players ranging from severe brain damage to actual death. The hero of our story is a teenage gamer named Michael. Michael and his three gamer friends are expert gamers and are also adept at hacking through the code of the game to manipulate elements within VirtNet to their advantage such as providing themselves with extra armor or weapons during gameplay and other such cheats. Michael and his friends are recruited by a covert agency to hack their way through the VirtNet and track down the cyberterrorist.
The book did a great job of quickly hooking and drawing in the readers. We very quickly learn about some of the ins and outs of VirtNet as well as the nature of the cyberterrorist/hacker threat. We are kept off balance alongside Michael as he tries to figure out the new game rules set by Kaine as he works towards something called the Mortality Doctrine. The pacing of real world versus game world left me a little unbalanced at first especially when the lines between real and virtual begin to blur. The world building done here was very well done. We don't spend a lot of time in the "real world" but what interaction we do have there felt natural and believable. When in the game world I really enjoyed the creativity and vibrance of the elements Dashner creates. Within the VirtNet there are a variety of unique and complex worlds and games for players to enjoy. While some were more fleshed out than others. The characters and situations presented inside the game world just provided for a wide breadth of creativity and adventure.
As much as I enjoyed the book, there were a few things that pulled me back and made the experience less than perfect for me. As an worker in the software and technology world, I really had to stretch my "suspension of disbelief" with regards to the way the gamers interacted and hacked through the code. Similar to the behavior in the Matrix, these super hackers just sort of close their eyes and can "see" the code (whether as 1s and 0s or as actual written functions is unclear). Upon seeing the code they are able to notice vulnerabilities and can also manipulate the code somehow. The whole concept is fun and intriguing but from a person who deals with code on a daily basis, the process seemed a little odd. The other point that caught me a little off guard was that this government/corporate agency approaches Michael and his friends to help find this ultra-hacker Kaine. Now, I fully acknowledge that kids are very tech savvy. And I also acknowledge that this is a YA book targeted at teenagers. But to convince me that with a giant threat like this the agency turns to a random, albeit smart, teenager for help seemed a little far fetched. Dashner did account for this skepticism a little bit by having Michael suspect that he wasn't the only person hunting down Kaine and assuming that other people were doing the same thing and he just wanted to be the one to succeed.
On the whole I found the story to be compelling and a lot of fun. It was a thrilling technology filled ride with a lot of great creativity and a lot of variety in tone and theme due to the expansive world opened in the realm of the VirtNet. Throughout the story we are given glimpses of a deeper mystery as Michael tries not only to find Kaine but to determine his motivation. When the full implications of the Mortality Doctrine are revealed I can definitely say I was pleasantly surprised at the trajectory of the story and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series to find out what happens next.
4 out of 5 stars
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