Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Eye of Minds

I've been on a James Dashner kick, or at least I was when I read his Maze Runner books in quick succession. I was a tad disappointed with the end of that book series, so I didn't bother to read the prequel, which was about different people anyway. But I saw The Eye of Minds, also by Dashner, on the library shelf alongside those other books, and intrigued by the premise, I thought I'd give it a try.

The book was interesting enough. I think it just hit me at the wrong time. I went on a four-day camping trip shortly after starting it, and here's something about me that you might think odd...I don't usually read on vacations. The only vacation over which I remember doing some lovely reading was the one where I was pregnant with my first child. I left the sun and water be and stayed on my bed in my air-conditioned room and just read. Ah, it makes me happy just to think of it. I read two whole books that week! And though I could do that at home, it was quite the accomplishment to do it on a vacation. I know that sounds opposite, but that's how I work. So, you guessed it, I did not read on my camping trip, and after that, summer whirled in like a cyclone: birthdays, holidays, outings, the World Cup! (Having spent my formative years in Brazil, I root for them, even against the USA should it get to that.) I knew the summer would fly by, but now in the eye of the storm, I'm still blinking in confusion and wondering how I got here.

This week, I finally got to the halfway point of the book, and then it was smooth and quick reading from there. The first half of the book took me all month. The second half took a couple days. And like I said, I don't think it's all the book's fault. But I think I'm over James Dashner...for now (not that there's much else to read, though there is a fall movie I'm looking forward to). As always, his premise is intriguing, and once he gets the action rolling, his books are hard to put down. But I'm never quite happy with his endings.

In The Eye of Minds, Michael is a gamer and hacker who spends much of his time in an immersive virtual world with his two best friends whom he's never even met in real life. While his body is nourished and his senses are stimulated in the "Coffin," as he calls it, he is able to taste virtual food, feel the sword slash in battle, and even experience death without real repercussions (like, obviously, staying dead). But when players begin to die in the game and not return to their bodies, Michael's hacking skills earn him the dangerous job of tracking down whomever is tampering with and controlling the virtual reality.

Aside from summer's interruptions, this book's timing was interesting because I was simultaneously introduced to the anime Sword Art Online, the first season of which I am almost through watching (short review here: the first half is better so far than the second). The main similarity is the all-immersive aspect of the virtual realities in both. In Sword Art Online, however, the characters are stuck in their virtual reality, and the only way out is true death (even in the physical world) or beating the game. The Eye of Minds begins differently, in that regard, but as the book goes on, the similarities are even greater. I won't spoil it more than that.

Due to the nature of virtual reality, you'd expect a lot of gratuitous sex and violence in a book about it, but I'm happy to say that Dashner steers clear of the sex. At one point, there's a lot of violence, but it's not made light of. The main characters, at least, don't do it for the fun of it, and there's some commentary on why anyone does it at all (though I'm not sure the author ever gives us a clear answer). The real interesting moral questions come at the end of the book and lead into its sequel, which will be available later this year. Most anything more I would say would spoil the book, so sorry. Only this: it doesn't have to do with sex or violence, but it was one of the things that made me unsure about the book. It's interesting but unsettling.

I give the book three stars because, overall, I enjoyed the read. I might even read that sequel some day. But for now, I need something that isn't quite such a downer at its end, so I part ways with James Dashner.