- Chuck Gray
Let me get this out of the way: if you're not a "computer person," someone with more than a vague knowledge of computer networking technology, Brain Jack, by Brian Falkner, is probably not the book for you. If, however, you ARE such a person, Brain Jack will start off as the kind of thriller that you think you will love, but its ending, like so many other cyber-thrillers, feels rushed and absurd. Don’t get me wrong--you'll enjoy reading it, but don't expect anything too deep from this book.
Sam is the generic hero of our story. He's 17; he's a computer prodigy; and he's going to save the country from itself. The world of Brain Jack is set only a few years into our future. Falkner does a good job of building a world that, initially, is entirely conceivable based on our present. Computer technology is even more prevalent, and its consequences all the more potent. Las Vegas has been the victim of a nuclear attack that has left it in ruins, and the rest of the country is decaying under strict martial conditions.
Long story short, Sam pulls off the greatest hacking crime the world has ever seen and ends up in the employ of Homeland Security where he works with a group of other teens and early twenty-somethings to protect the country from even greater threats than himself. During all of this, a new computer interface technology, Neuro, is increasing in mass-consumer popularity. Opponents of this technology warn that it could lead to people being able to hack into other people's minds.
I don't want to give away too much because the actual substance of the story just isn't that substantial. Yes, it's interesting and leaves you thinking "what if?" and I totally didn't see the major plot twist coming. But after this revelation the wonder drops off quickly as we leave the land of "that could happen" for another land so foreign as to be unrecognizable. The pacing of the story leaves much to be desired.
One thing that Brain Jack does really, really well is making computer hacking sound exciting. Rather than spelling everything out in overly-technical jargon, Falkner uses decidedly kinetic language to describe the characters' actions online, likening them more to a journey than a process. This makes sense; people rarely say, "I'm going to view a Web site;" rather they say, "I'm going to a Web site" or "I visited a Web site." We think of the Web in terms of geography, not technology, and Falkner builds on this cognitive framework brilliantly.