The Games by Ted Kosmatka
Publisher: Random House/March 13th, 2012
Kind thanks to Random House for providing a review copy
Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.
The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.
Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.
The Games, Ted Kosmatka’s first full length novel, has already garnered comparisons to some heavy hitters like Jurassic Park and The Relic. I like both of those books, so was certainly anxious to give it a try. The Games is similar to those titles, but only in general theme (how much should we be tampering with DNA), but otherwise, it’s an entirely unique creature (at least to me.) Silas Williams is our go-to guy here, and even though he’s a brilliant scientist, the author paints a picture of a rather haunted man. One who is beginning to have second thoughts about the career that’s buoyed him most of his adult life. Divorced and childless, creating the genetic mishmash creatures for The Games has so far fulfilled him, even if they are inevitably destroyed. The Games is a disturbing event coinciding with the Olympics that pits genetically altered creations against each other in brutal gladiatorial combat. The only hard and fast rule is “no human DNA”. I like to think that anyone with an ounce of compassion wouldn’t go near something like this, but the truth of the matter is that people would probably be buying tickets in droves. *Shudder* Silas is gearing up for a year pretty much like any other when his newest creation is “born”, and it’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. This creature not only looks unlike anything in the animal kingdom, it soon begins showing an alarming amount of strength and intelligence, so Silas begins digging deeper into its creation, since this time, things went just a little bit differently…
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly like a character that creates creatures just to fight to the death, a la dog and chicken fighting on a grand scale, yes? I admit, I was skeptical, but like Silas you will. There’s something very vulnerable in his need to create and fill his own emotional voids, and he’s just plain…likable. When he brings in a xenobiologist, Vidonia Joao, to hopefully categorize The Beast into something they can understand, they start a rather sweet romance, one that doesn’t seem forced and adds quite a bit of depth to the story. The Beast is terrifying, and the scenes with this creature will make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. There’s a subplot involving Evan Chandler, creator of the supercomputer responsible for The Beast’s genetic coding, that’s unexpectedly complex and heartbreaking, and really makes you think about just what it is that makes us human, and the very nature of good and evil. Combine all these elements with polished prose and a breakneck speed, and you’re looking at some serious late night reading. I stayed up very late just to finish this, and The Games certainly lives up to its buzz. Ted is the author of quite a few award winning sci-fi/speculative fiction short stories, and his talent is on full display in this full length work. The Games is a sci-fi/thriller with unexpected depth and humanity, and a few twists that I didn’t see coming. Very highly recommended!