Brain Jack by Brian Falkner (Random House - Books for Young Readers) is one of the best science (or speculative--you pick the term) fiction books I've read this year.
Sam wants a new computer, and one of those neuro-headsets, so he hacks into Telecomerica, steals a bit of money, and marks himself as the sort of guy that can get an invite to Neoh@ack Con, the replacement for Defcon, which was blown up in a nuclear attack by an unknown perpetrator. He takes up the challenge of attending a meetup on the White House servers, and receives a visit from the government--and lands in jail.
Breaking out of jail, though, is just a test to see if he's smart enough to join the Cyber Defense Division of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of working for himself, he can work to protect nuclear power plants and communications systems from the bad guys. That feels good; it's good to be part of a team. And maybe that team could be better, faster, if it didn't have to rely on keyboards and mice; maybe they should use neuro-headsets. The thing is, any connection to the Internet means that someone can review and manipulate what's on your hard drive, so what happens when you are the hard drive? What if the human brain were open to viruses and misdirection? What if it led to war?
Part action flick, part meditation on the powers and perils of technology, Brain Jack is a fast, fun read. It leans heavily on technology, but the story unfolds in a way that even technonewbies can follow. Even better, it's got smart kids and a smart plot--but there's no sense that the author has put on a teenager suit to give us a lecture. Very much recommended.
I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.