From: Vera Morgan
Location: Shoreline, WA
I don't know the title, author, or year of publication...
The story begins with a war going on. One character in the book provides a clue to the fact that the fighting is a simulation with truly fatal results by showing the main character a tiny dancer that dances in his hand. If memory serves correctly, she is of flame. He confides that she used to be only in his dreams but that now she in with him all the time. I want to finish reading the book partly to get Elton John's song out of my head. It gets stuck for days at a time.
The plot line includes the idea that the boys who went to war are all storehoused in a semicomatose state and have their brains wired to interface with each other. In their shared dreaming, some are regularly electrocuted as they dream their death in battle. The battle scenes are surreal, naturally, and the enemy is some terrifying "other" who can not actually be seen, only sensed.
If you can help me locate any information about this book, I will be deeply grateful.
All I remember is that it was a paperback and I started reading it more than twenty years ago.
From: Greg Bear
Hmm... sounds like ENDER'S GAME to me. Time period is about right!
Uh-uh. Definitely not ENDER'S GAME. Sounds more related to the kind of niche Karl Hansen's WARGAMES is in (which, incidentally, even in 82...or 4...was published by Playboy books).
Location: Winter Park, FL
This is going to haunt me as well - I don't think it's Ender's Game, although it is similar. In Ender's Game, the children were fully awake but they thought they were playing a game. I don't recall any tiny flame dancer, either.
The plotline and time period really sounds like something Philip K. Dick would have written, or someone working in a similar vein. Have you tried checking into the works of William Gibson or Bruce Sterling? The movie The Matrix has similar elements as well, but it borrowed indiscriminately from dozens of different novels and comic books, so that doesn't narrow it down all that much!
From: Roald Laurenson
Well, I think it is not Ender's Game - neither of the images appear in that book, and they are both colder than it is.
I'm sorry I can't help you on where they actually are. You might try Google search, using your concepts. There are excellent sources out there, like www.kirjasto.sci.fi (kirjasto is library, but this one doesn't seem to have Orson Scott Card or Greg's books, though it is often excellent for getting a feeling for others).
From: Michael Grosberg
This might Be Samuel R. Delany's "The Towers of Toron", part two of his early trilogy, "The Fall of the Towers". This book deals with the city of Toromon, possibly the last city in a post-nuclear war earth. Its leaders, trying to keep their hold on a seething population, declare that "we have an enemy across the border" - but this enemy may not exist at all. they then proceed to orchestrate a fake war using the means you described, connecting every soldier in a vast matrix-like contraption that coordinates their dreams while they stay in an induced coma.
This is only a small part of the overall plot of the trilogy that deals with several characters and a battle between two alien entities across time and space.
I also recommend asking on usenet, in rec.arts.sf.written, where the combined knowledge of the posters usually finds the answer to such questions in no time.