Review: The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Saturday, April 21, 2012
Title: The Games
Author: Ted Kosmatka
Genre: science fiction, dystopia
Series: N/A
Pages: 368 (ARC edition)
Published: March 13, 2012
Source: ARC for review
Rating: 4/5

This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.

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.

In a technologically advanced future, people have added a genetic engineering contest to the Olympic Games. Each country uses it to show off its prowess, and the United States has won since the inception of this twisted arena fight to the death.

This time around, though, Silas Williams, head of development for the project, feels something has gone terribly wrong. Using a different tactic, Olympic development has allowed a computer genius to use his supercomputer to help create the creature. From its birth, Silas and several others working with it have wondered if maybe they've pushed too far this time. It's hyperintelligent, more like a true alien than an animal. Silas enlists his friend Ben and his new love interest, Vidonia, into helping him figure out what this thing really is- before it's too late.

Kosmatka did a great job in raising some important moral dilemmas in his exploration of genetic engineering and the creative process. Above and beyond what they've created this time, did they ever have the right to create creatures just to send them to their deaths? (This happens to be an issue I had with the premise as well. Would people be evil enough to condemn these creatures to death just for their entertainment? I hope not.) Does the good that comes from engineering these creatures- like breakthroughs in biotechnology- justify doing it in the first place? Do we really know how to judge sentience in a creature, or for that matter, a computer? Can we ever fault a being, no matter how manipulated its inception, for wanting to do what it takes to survive? The author uses these questions to create a thoughtful story with some scary implications.

The characters were only mediocre from my point of view. Kosmatka captured intelligence and social awkwardness fairly well, but I felt no real passion from any of the characters either. Even the love story was a tad dull, though I did root for Silas and Vidonia as they raced against the clock to discover what this creature was and stop it from gaining the upper hand against its human creators.

Whatever else I might have felt about this book, I was surprised to notice a day after finishing it that it was on my mind. I ran through it as though I had watched it in the movie theatre. The story, while not bringing in much action until about halfway through, nevertheless flows nicely. By that halfway mark, I didn't want to put the book down.

Overall Kosmatka does a good job with a slightly flawed premise. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction or scientific ethical dilemmas. A solid four stars.

I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. 

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