Entertainment

Dashner’s ‘The Eye of Minds’ a real mind’s eye experience

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As technology continues to advance, it seems that more and more movies, books and television shows are produced warning us of the dangers of artificial intelligence that becomes too intelligent. From Johnny Depp’s recent film “Transcendence” to Arthur C. Clarke’s “Space Odyssey” to the extremely popular “Portal” video game series all the way back to “The Matrix” and “Terminator” movies, there has been no shortage of media warning us of what happens when computers aren’t content to just be our assistants. James Dashner throws his own hat into the technological terror ring with his book, “The Eye of Minds.” Dashner, best known for his best-selling “Maze Runner” series of books, is also the author of a series called “The Mortality Doctrine.” The first book, “The Eye of Minds,” chronicles the life of Michael, a teenage boy in a not-too-far-off future. Unlike many other popular authors, however, Dashner’s future isn’t dystopian or ruined in any way. In fact, it’s so advanced that their scientists have created something that makes real life seem gray, dull, and just plain boring: The VirtNet. The VirtNet is an enormous virtual reality gaming network, allowing gamers to take on ridiculous tasks and outrageous adventures they wouldn’t dare to tackle in real life. Gamers connect to the VirtNet via NerveBoxes, affectionately nicknamed Coffins by frequent players. The experience is so lifelike that the developers have had to create a special type of coding for each player, called a Core, which keeps the player’s real life brain separate from their virtual one. With the Core, no matter what happens to you in the VirtNet, be it falling off a cliff, getting shot by a sniper or starving in a virtual desert, you wake up back in your Coffin, safe and sound. Without the Core, however, the stakes are raised: you die in the game, you die in real life. Dashner starts his story off with the horror of a death in the VirtNet with a Core removed. The book opens with Michael trying to coax a girl named Tanya from committing virtual suicide by jumping off a bridge. She’s hysterical, saying she can’t escape, that she’s been trapped in the VirtNet by a gamer named Kaine. Generally, all she’d have to do to escape would be to find a Portal, a doorway to real life, and exit the game. Kaine, however, has hacked her coding to keep her from doing that. The only way for her to escape is to die, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal in the VirtNet, but she can’t just die, she has to remove her own Core, a feat of programming. Before Michael’s eyes, she does just that, and jumps. He jumps after her, and they both die in the game, but Tanya for real. As the story progresses, Michael is approached by VirtNet Security to help them track down Kaine. It turns out Kaine has gained a reputation throughout the VirtNet as a virtual terrorist, trapping players in the game and leaving them brain-dead in real life. Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah are promised to be “set for life” if they succeed in leading VirtNet Security to Kaine. The story follows the trio as they track down Kaine, their journey leading them to various virtual hangouts such as the Black and Blue Club, a place only the richest of the virtual crowd can enter; an extremely violent and bloody game known as “Devils of Destruction” and finally, The Path that leads to Kaine himself. Dashner doesn’t offer extensive description of his characters. We get virtually no physical description of Michael, and we’re only offered one or two sentences about his friends. Dashner weaves a few more small bits of information throughout the story, but what he really focuses on is personality. In reading the story, you can’t help but see the vastly differing personalities of the trio. On the one extreme, Bryson is impetuous, headstrong and ready to rumble at a moment’s notice. On the other is Sarah, calm and calculating, but also fierce and fiery when she needs to be. In the middle, naturally, is the story’s protagonist, Michael. He’s wary of almost everyone they meet, and is confused most of the time by the psychotic Kaine’s mastery of programming, exactly who Kaine is and what he’s doing. I can’t say the book is a challenging read. The vocabulary isn’t lackluster, but neither is it complex and flamboyant. Dashner tells the story as if he were sitting and having a conversation with his reader. In a way, this helps the words themselves to “disappear” and allows the reader to really visualize the story in his or her mind, without being thrown off by a totally unfamiliar word. Dashner is also a fan of taking common words and changing their meaning in his story, generally capitalizing them to make them stand out. This was the case in “The Maze Runner,” and is the same here. At first, it’s confusing, as Michael and friends throw around terms such as “The Wake,” “Lifeblood Deep,” “EarCuff” and “Portal” with no thought at all. By the end of the book, however, I found myself as fluent in “VirtNet-speak” as Michael himself. It may seem like a minor accomplishment, but I felt fulfilled by it nonetheless. The story itself follows the basic pattern stories have for centuries: a hero charged with a monumental task must face many challenges in order to confront his enemy. Dashner does an excellent job of portraying The Path as the ultimate gauntlet for Michael and his friends to pass to reach Kaine. Each test is vastly different, ranging from a stone clock face floating in midair to a hall filled with undead corpses. The tests grow more and more disturbing as the trio progresses, and climaxes with Michael facing Kaine himself and discovering the truth about the VirtNet and its relationship to his own life. I’ll leave it at that and let you follow Michael along yourself should you choose to read “The Eye of Minds,” which I highly recommend you do. It’s no wonder Dashner is a best-seller. No, he’s not a descriptive world-builder like Tolkien, nor is he a symbolic writer like C. S. Lewis. What he is, though, is a great storyteller. True, some readers may appreciate a little more description to help them visualize the story, but for me, that’s half the fun: filling in the details yourself. Dashner lets the story itself draw you in, not the way it’s told. So, is “The Eye of Minds” a masterpiece? Probably not. Is it the next “Hunger Games” series? Who can say right now? All I can say is it sure was fun to read.
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