The Blurb On The Back:
To catch a hacker, you need a hacker.
For Michael and the other gamers, the VirtNet can make your wildest fantasies become real. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Who wants to play by the rules anyway?
But some rules were made for a reason. One gamer has been taking people hostage inside the VirtNet with horrific consequences.
The government needs Michael, but the risk is enormous and the line between game and reality could be blurred forever …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s the future. Everyone spends their free time on the VirtNet, an artificial gaming platform that you connect to through a Coffin (a device that connects into your body so that you can really see, hear and feel the things you experience). 16-year-old Michael and his friends Bryson and Sarah are top players on VirtuNet, mainly because they’re willing to hack it but there’s a new gamer in town called Kaine who’s using his own hacker skills to subjugate other gamers to serve him. He’s developed KillSims, virtual creations that can hurt a gamer’s on-line persona and simultaneously cause brain damage or even death to their real bodies. VNS (the company that controls VirtNet) want Michael and his friends to track Kaine down and stop him. To do that he needs to find something called The Mortality Doctrine – but no one knows what it is or how to find it. Michael will need all his skills and courage if he’s to fulfil his task, because failure will cost him his life …
James Dashner’s YA SF thriller (the first in a trilogy) is a wooden, listless affair populated by dull characters who never spring to life on the page and with a premise that has MATRIX connotations but whose virtual existence means that the stakes never really feel significant. Michael simply never really came to life for me on the page – I didn’t understand how his hacker skills worked (it seemed to involve being able to access the code behind the reality but there’s little description of how this worked or how he and his friends learnt it) – and I guessed the twist relating to him in the first third of the book. Bryson and Sarah are little more than convenient sidekicks there to help keep the plot moving when required. There’s no information on how they became friends and little to suggest what keeps them together given that they’ve never met in the real world. When Kaine finally materialises he’s depressingly two-dimensional and again the twist to his story is telegraphed too early on and because this is a virtual world and you’re not shown the effects of the KillSims on real people, there’s no real feeling of the stakes here. I can imagine the visuals in this book making an interesting film but there’s simply not enough story or stakes here for me to want to read on.
Thanks to Random House for the review copy of this book.