Del Rey, 2012
The Games by Ted Kosmatka is a sciencefiction thriller that actually leans more heavily on the science part them my initial impressions lead me to believe. In a near future the advancement of genetic science is promoted and funded in part by a no holds barred death sport held during the Summer Olympic games. Each country breeds, cross breeds, and outright designs a creature to compete in this sport with the winner receiving prestige, and an influx of cash via publicity and investment.
The Games opens with a desperate bid for supremacy by the corporation behind the American Gladiator project. Rather then leave the genetic design in the hands of the scientists it is instead handed over to an experimental supercomputer. The result is something entirely new. The American scientists and animal handlers, led by Silas Williams, must attempt to understand this new creature. Flummoxed by its bizarre genetic makeup and strange physiology Williams also enlists the aid of an attractive xenobiologist, Vidonia João. As the team delves into the creatures training it becomes readily apparent that it far stranger and far deadlier then they could of dreamed.
At first glance, and if you read the flap text, you might get the impression that The Games is a novel about the dangers of unethical science. While this is true to an extent Kosmatka actually takes a far more subtle stance. Rather then the dangers of unethical scientific practices the novel more directly focuses on the danger of commercializing science; of turning science into a competition. The scientists in The Games, particularly Williams and João, are actually quite ethical and over the course of the novel consistently and vocally warn their bosses about the dangers of letting their Gladiator compete. The Games then is less a novel that says “science is bad” but rather a warning about placing an emphasis on the bottom line rather than the actual advancement of scientific knowledge.
I can’t speak to the actual science glimpsed in The Games, at least the biology and chemistry behind the novel’s fictionalized engineering. I can however speak rather highly of the sociological and philosophical questions raised over the course of the novel. Both aspects broaden the novel’s perspective a bit beyond that of your typical thriller. I don’t want to get into too many details, since those questions and ideas are raised through one of the novel’s major twists. Some of the novel’s most important questions are raised during the climax once the truth behind the supercomputer is revealed.
As a concept novel The Games is absolutely top notch. However, the novel definitely hits a few stumbles along the way. Given the novel’s concept it becomes fairly obvious as we see the creature, and to anyone that has a science thriller like this, that things are not going to go well at all. That being said that novel dawdles a bit too much for my liking in the build up to that climax. Kosmatka does some interesting work with his characters and the protagonist Silas Williams is brought life with a deft ease. Kostmatka easily establishes Williams’ close relationship to his family and does a good job at breathing a sense of history and community between Williams and his team. Perhaps most fascinating is the character of Evan Chandler. The more Kosmatka reveals about Evan and his supercomputer the more interesting the character gets. Vidonia João was actually the weakest addition to the novel and I’m not sure what purpose her introduction served other than as an obvious love interest for Silas. The novel would not have suffered if she had been left out.
The Games is Ted Kosmatka’s first novel. Kosmatka takes the familiar tropes of the science thriller (think, Jurassic Park) and manages to twist them just enough to produce an entertaining and original novel. Kostmatka is perhaps a bit overly hesitant in embracing his characters, he leans more heavily on the plot and concept to carry the novel, but still manages to create some realistic characters which would have really shone through if embraced fully. The Games is an excellent start to what I hope will be a long career and is a novel that genre fans and mainstream fans can find common ground over. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Kosmatka’s work in the future.