Let’s not wear out my fingerprints typing too much about James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner,” part one of a YA trilogy that raises one of the most important questions of our time: : how does one get that hallowed, masonic Brandon Sanderson endorsement that seems to get these unpublishable hack-works published? This is the story about a blank-and-bland Chosen Boy with amnesia who wakes up in sort of a Maze where there’s other equally generic boys living in a “dystopian” community that leans heavy on cussing for communication; naturally, this is clunking mother-shucking “future” slang, least the book land on a banned pile at the middle school library that is its preferred habitat.
Any blurb that refers to this as “‘The Hunger Games’ meets ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Divergent’ meets ‘What-Have-You'” needs to clarify: that’s not a compliment but a condemnation. “The Maze Runner” is fan fiction without the fun element of enthusiastic incompetence that makes fan-fiction so much fun – unless one argues that there’s a certain transgressive charm to the way the author disregards all sorts of literary rules, like “show don’t tell” or “a character needs CHARACTERISTICS to be considered a character” or “don’t have the solution to a central mystery come to the hero in the form of a convenient dream.” From that angle, this is a brazen post-modern experiment.
Positive things: this IS a quick read (but then so is “The Hungry Caterpillar”.) Dashner knows not to insert any polysyllabic words or complicated nuances that might slow down the book’s intended audience: manly young men who fear that there are too many girls with cooties getting lead roles in our YA post-apocalyptic fantasies. Weirdly enough, they prefer to read about imprisoned sweaty boys being catty to each other, running around in their maze like hormonal hamsters, being probed by robots, and then retiring together to their bunks after a day of intense aerobic exercise. When the novel’s ONE female character finally appears in the midst of these lawless post-apocalyptic teenagers, you would think she triggers intense battles for the girl’s affections. Indeed, any realistic psychologists would be brazing themselves for a rapey “Game of Thrones” episode, or at least an increase in involuntary erections. But, none of that. Instead, the threatened boys conclude that the incoming womb-bearer is a sign of the REAL apocalypse. This is the way the world ends: not with a gang-bang but with a wussy whimper.
SPOILER: Eventually Chosen Boy (I honestly forget his name a mere 24 hours after I put the book away) gets out of the maze by LITERALLY falling into a Hole in the Plot, but then the truest of all horrors is revealed: the trilogy has MOVIE VERSIONS that guarantee this amateurish mess will haunt TBS for at least another decade.