Wednesday, January 28, 2015

NOT ANY MORE



They arrived, three of them mounted on fine horses with silver and turquoise decorating their tack. Their fur lined capes were thrown back to reveal green imperial uniforms that dripped with silver braid. Their swords, pistols and high crowned shakos flashed. Ruben sent his mother inside their little cabin.

“Hola senior!” called the first merrily. He looked to be perhaps eighteen, a good two years older than Ruben. He wore the red sash of a captain. The others were older, though not by much.

“Hola,” Ruben answered cautiously. He’d known men like these years ago. As a boy he had been discovered to be Elegido, the Chosen One. He’d fought with them, toppled governments and conquered nations with men like these. When the Great Danger had been defeated, men like these had devoured the world he’d fought to save. “You are not welcome here, seniors. If you do not know, you are on private property, granted to me by the Emperor himself. If you know this then you also know I value my privacy. Either way, it would be best if you went back the way you came.”

The men laughed and kicked their bright spurs back, edging their horses up the slope.

“Peace, Elegido!” the captain called. “We are here for the Emperor.”

“He knows I don’t want visitors.”

“Si! He does, but I fear that this is unavoidable. He requires your services again.”

Ruben scowled up at the captain.

“I don’t do that anymore.”

“Not even for your Emperor?”

“No.” He turned away, retrieving his hoe from where he’d propped it against the split rail fence. The vegetable patch was in bad need of weeding. The thunk of something hitting the dusty ground brought Ruben’s head around. A fat sack lay between him and the soldiers, the bright gold within splayed out in the dust in a fan of wealth most men could scarce imagine.

“Not even for that?”

“I didn’t take his gold before. Only the land he offered. Land he said I would never be troubled on again, I might add,” Ruben snapped.

“What then can move you, senior? I am authorized to grant it, whatever it might be.”

“I told you, I don’t do that anymore.” 

The young captain, still smiling, waved to the other men who dismounted quickly. Ruben shifted his grip on the hoe, tensed for action but the two toy soldiers only began to gather up the gold.

“Yet you hold that hoe as if you remember how,” the captain said with a grin that showed far too many of his white teeth.The captain’s hand twitched in signal and with the speed of snakes the two soldiers transformed from popinjays to deadly assassins. Their swords lept from their scabbards and they lunged forward. The first flung a handful of dust and gold at Ruben’s eyes, but it was already too late. The Power surged through Ruben. A shield of protection deflected the grit and coins. The hoe swung. Two brutal Power-imbued strokes shattered swords and skulls alike. The two soldiers were flung though the air a dozen feet before flopping still and lifeless in the dust.

Ruben stood trembling, his teeth bared. The hoe gleamed red.

Laughing, the young captain clapped is gloved hands.

“Excellent, Elegido! Now will you be coming or shall I return with more men for you to kill first?”

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~SJA

Eye of Minds - Review

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with James Dashner (his website is drop-dead gorgeous so you should check it out if for no other reason than to enjoy the eye candy). I loved his Maze Runner series, but was disappointed in the prequel. I was likewise underwhelmed by the 13th Reality. So I've been putting off starting Eye of Minds, but with an unspent Audible credit hanging around, I thought I'd give it a try.

Eye of Minds is a YA science fiction story. It shares some similarities with Ready Player One... actually it's almost exactly like Ready Player One so far as tech and setting, so I've got to ding Dashner's creativity there. I do appreciate that he's delivered a similar world without the sex and language of Ready Player One for younger readers to enjoy. I just wish he could have been a little more cleaver with it.

For those who haven't read either book, allow me to explain: The Internet has become a Matrix-like virtual world. To access said world people climb into computerized coffins that allowing them to feel and experience everything as if it were real. Many people spend more time in the VertNet than in the waking world. Why one would want to experience the tedium of having to walk to the Google website to send some mail, then to Amazon to pick out some books and then across the web to Destiny for a few rounds of alien blasting makes no sense to me, but I digress.

The outside world is a bit messed up, so the hero, Michael, spends a lot of time in the VertNet. The book opens with Dashner's signature shock moment (which is very attention grabbing) and takes off on a whirl wind adventure to uncover who the evil gamer Kane really is and what his nifarous agenda is for the VertNet. Throw in some sidekicks, crazy killer programs, a Pilgrim's Progress-style unravel-the-mystery journey and you've got yourself an interesting read.

Please, note: interesting. Not: good.

The book has a few substantial flaws that drift it away from good and towards the "meh" spectrum of books.

First, as mentioned, the unoriginal world building.

Second there are some funny tech moments that show an ignorance of tech or, at the very least, a lack of creativity on behalf of the author. The characters use keyboards to participate in several IM-style conversations which I must call BS on. I can talk to my PlayStation for goodness sake, I can operate my computer by touch. The idea that, in a world where VR is REAL, they're still banging away on QWERTY keyboards is laughable. Also, we're constantly made aware that since Michael and his friends have the very best VR coffins they'll experience every horrific moment of pain of what's inflicted on them in the game world. I find this painfully silly. I can adjust dozens of settings on my TV for goodness sake, and you're telling me you can't adjust pain settings in a VR coffin? That's just bad design right there, like finding a new car without seats that can be tilted or moved forward or back.

Third, there are quite a few lengthy passages where Dashner feels the need to describe everything a character does in a day. He went to school. Came home. Made himself lunch, ham and cheese on rye, pickles and a glass of milk... etc. I'm not kidding. That's how it goes. Fortunately my Kindle does have a pain adjustment setting and I skipped some of those passages.

Finally, the characters are just a little inconsistent and flat. His friends are your basic Ron and Hermione knock offs. He's silly. She's smart etc. but the hero never really needs either of them except to discuss things that have just happened or are going to happen. They are amazing hackers but don't think of even the simplest hacks to help themselves out of trouble. I never got around to caring about any of them or what was happening. Maybe partly because at the back of my mind I always knew they were just in a virtual world and thus, completely safe. The threat of not being able to get back into a game just wasn't high enough stakes for me. 

The book does end with a fantastic and (again) signature Dashner twist I didn't see coming that made the last chapters fly past but unfortunately by that point it was too little too late for me.

What to know: Like all Dashner books there is a smattering of language, and a generous helping of gore and bloody violence. There are also kids in peril (sort of) but nothing that would scare away anyone but the most sensitive of readers.

So, if you've always wanted to read Ready Player One but didn't want the "adult" part of the content or if you have a spare Audible credit going to waste, give Eye of Minds a read. I'd be willing to read the second book to see where Dashner takes the plot, and to see if he can juice up the originality now that his world's in place.

And that, I guess, is my two cents.

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~SJA