Author: Ted Kosmatka
Publisher: Del Rey
In the near future, there is a new Olympic event — a gladiator competition with only one rule: no human DNA allowed.
Silas Williams is a geneticist, in charge of executing the design of the United States’ entry for the Olympics. He is portrayed as passionate and brilliant, unwilling to let a severed digit from his hand slow the progress of their project. Typical entries into the competition are a hybrid of nature’s most ferocious animals: crocodiles, bears, tigers, and then add some talons and razor-sharp teeth and you have a formidable competitor. But the design Silas is overseeing is different — its DNA does not reflect any particular animal. It is entirely unique.
The creature has been designed by a supercomputer, which is so complex and power-consuming that it can only be operated by Evan Chandler, who is seemingly autistic, but extraordinarily gifted in some respects. The only input the genetic team gives to the computer is to design a creature that will survive the competition.
To assist Silas in the nurturing of their gladiator, a young, attractive xenobiologist named Vidonia João arrives and a love interest develops between the two. But their romance soon turns into a fight for their lives as their newfound creation grows more powerful than they ever expected. They soon learn that much more is at stake than a gold medal.
Kosmatka’s debut novel is a page-turning, science fiction thriller. It’s fair to compare The Games to Jurassic Park. Both deal with genetical engineering of fantastical creatures with a prevailing theme of what happens when we go too far with science. I don’t think this novel achieves what Crichton’s novel did in terms of character depth and plot, however.
A majority of the novel focuses on Silas and he is the only character that seems to experience any real internal change. His entire outlook shifts when he learns that the gladiator understands English — not just English words — but the language itself and how verbs can be modified. For him, it is a light switch, where he finds that his scientific pursuits have gone too far.
The antagonist is Mr. Baskov, the Olympic Commissioner. When Silas tries to correct his misdeeds, it is Baskov who urges the project forward at all costs. Baskov is rather one-dimensional in his role, serving merely as an obstacle for Silas. Likewise, Vidonia is another character who I would have liked to see a little more depth to. For a woman so well-traveled and career-oriented, it seems odd that she would sleep with her boss and abandon the project so readily. What conflict led her to those decisions?
I think the plot could have been enhanced by having the gladiator learn through training how to fight (other than one short episode with a goat and another with a robotic competitor). Even predators become tame without hunting for their food and the gladiator’s environment served to weaken him, not strengthen him. I also would have liked to see a better resolution of the conflict between Evan and Baskov.
Overall, the novel was good and I enjoyed reading it. Despite some of its flaws, it was a page-turner and explored some interesting concepts. I really like how the instructions to the supercomputer tied into the plot in a much greater way than I expected. For someone who is looking for a fun and easy thriller, The Games will provide a nice escape.