AUTHOR: James Dashner
LENGTH: 320 pages
PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press
SUMMARY: Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?
But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.
The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team.
But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.
REVIEW: Dashner has done something that seems quite the challenge for authors who have written a popular trilogy…he’s followed the successful Maze Runner series with the first in another promising series. The Eye of Minds is the first installment in The Mortality Doctrine and it is a masterful mix of science fiction and reality. Virtual video games have become more and more accessible to the average gamer in the last 10 years so the premise of The Eye of Minds is not complete science fiction. The extent to which society is entrenched in the virtual world is exaggerated in the books but it takes no large stretch of imagination to see Dashner’s created world where the virtual is more appealing than the real world may be a reality sooner rather than later.
Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah are recruited by the organization that polices the virtual world because they know that to defeat a hacker sometimes the only solution is to hire another hacker. There is a cyber terrorist named KaIne who is perpetrating the unthinkable: he’s holding players hostage in the VirtNet. The police believe that the kids have a better chance of infiltrating Kane’s organization than if they go after him outright. In order to defeat KaIne, Michael and his friends must go off the known grid and delve into the seedy underbelly of the VirtNet.
Michael and his friends being asked to hunt a cyber-terrorist might at first seem far-fetched. However watching my own students and, for that matter my own children, become immersed in video games, it doesn’t seem such a stretch that these kids could lose themselves and alienate themselves from their parents in a virtual world. At 15 Michael is given almost unfettered independence save a housekeeper who lurks on the periphery. As he ventures deeper into the off-grid areas of the VirtNet, the connection to the real world becomes more and more tenuous for Michael and for the reader. Bryson and Sarah seem a little flat but because Michael only knows them through the VirtNet and has never met them in person, that seems plausible.
The settings used in the VirtNet give the story a sense of scope and surrealism akin to the feeling one has at an amusement park. This feeling of Big and Other helps readers feel the pull of the VirtNet in the same way the characters do. There is also a surprising amount of violence in the story. The closer Michael gets to discovering who and where KaIne is, the more aggressive and brutal become the tasks he must complete to stay on The Path. The violence and gore rise to peak levels in the Winter and led me to wonder how much violence is too much violence – in gaming and in books. The description of the kids’ hacking seemed a little vague and the only reference I had for it was scenes from The Matrix. Using that mental image gave the story an even stronger sense of surrealism that enhanced rather than detracted from the overall experience of the book.
The tension between Michael’s virtual experiences and his detachment from the real world (along with the fates of Bryson and Sarah) is honed throughout the book striking a good balance between action and nightmare. The suspense of seeing whether Michael will reach his goal while evading KaIne’s clutches builds to a climax that will make readers retrace their steps through the book, looking for clues and seeing Michael’s actions in a whole new light. Gamers will love the premise behind The Eye of Minds and wish that the VirtNet could become a reality. Even readers with a limited knowledge of gaming will marvel at the possibility of the VirtNet become a very real part of life in the near future.