129. The Eye of Minds, James Dashner
This was my first Dashner novel, though I've heard him speak before at a writer's conference and he was really funny. This book, of course, isn't funny--but it is fast-paced and interesting.
The story is set in a vaguely futuristic world where most people (especially young people) spend much of their free time in the VirtNet (aka, the Sleep), where their bodies are wired to experience virtual events as if they are real. Michael is a gamer--a hacker and coder--and like his two best friends, he spends much of his time playing virtual games in the Sleep.
That is, until he witnesses a horrific suicide (a real one) inside the VirtNet and hears about Kaine, a hacking genius who has somehow managed to evade authorities and kidnap and torture some of the best and brightest in the VirtNet. Now the VNS (the VirtNet Security) has a real problem: how to capture a man who has so far eluded all attempts. Their answer? Recruit a bunch of hackers and see what they can do. Michael, along with his friends Bryson and Sarah, agree to help, thinking this will just be a more advanced version of their usual games. When they realize how serious Kaine is, they try to back out, only to find themselves threatened by VNS. They go back into the VirtNet, following a trail of clues that take them to unimagined parts of the virtual world and to secrets they never suspected.
The story/plot here is great. While I suspected part of the final plot twist, I didn't see all of it coming and the book packs a pretty good surprise. Dashner's story moves along quickly (I read most of it on a 3 hour car ride this afternoon) and the virtual world he creates is interesting. The writing itself isn't quite as winning: the writing never got in the way of the story, but it wasn't ever outstanding enough for me to slow down to savor the writing (as, say, with Gaiman's books). And I never really connected to the characters, who weren't especially distinctive to me. However, the plot is strong enough that these complaints won't really matter to most readers.