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Book Review

Book Cover

The Games


Author: Ted Kosmatka
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99
ISBN: 978 1 78116 414 3
Available 22 June 2012

In the, not too distant future, the Olympic Games has been transformed into an expression of a countries technological prowess, none more so than in the new gladiatorial section which opens every new games. Disposing of the idea of humans fighting to the death, the gladiators are genetically created creatures, bred for one purpose only, to kill. With their reputation at risk the United States creates a creature which owes nothing to the blending of animal genes, having used its newest super computer to build the creature from its most basic gene sequence. When the creature is birthed its creators are initially fascinated by its violent beauty, but this soon turns to horror when it becomes clear that their perfect killing machine is also intelligent...

The Games is the first novel by the respected short story author Ted Kosmatka. This nicely paced book benefits from Kosmatka’s own previous studies in biology, which lends the story an air of credibility. There is enough science in it to give the average reader a feeling that creating the creature is possible, within this world, without descending into Trek babble.

The book follows two main characters, Evan whose unique gifts allow him to create a computer which exists mostly in virtual reality, but who remains isolated from his fellow man and Silas Williams, the geneticist who is employed to build the creature designed by Evan’s computer. Although Silas is the undoubted hero of the book, he gets to do all the running around and has a love subplot with a xenobiologist, Evan is the more interesting character.

Evan is a grossly overweight wonder kid, who has not had a meaningful, emotional, relationship since being removed from his mother. In creating his new computer Evan stores a portion away for himself, within which he creates a virtual child, Pea, who views Evan as his father. Because Evan's access to the computer is restricted, Pea grows up, mostly, in isolation, not unlike his creator and, like Evan, Pea gradually starts to resent the rest of humanity. Whereas Evan is socially ineffectual, unable to control his own life, Pea, by virtue of his unlimited abilities, poses an actual threat.

The book has much in common with Crichton’s novels; it almost feels as if it were written with a movie in mind, but Kosmatka lacks the sense of wonder, especially with his new creature to compete. Although slickly written many of the novel's basic ideas have been explored in literature and in films like The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Splice (2009), in fact the book feels like a marriage of those two films.

The first part of the book sets up a nice mystery surrounding the origins of the creature's DNA and Silas’s growing disquiet about its potential, a disquiet which leads him to bring in xenobiologist Vidonia, with whom he eventually has an affair. His role is to run through the linear plot, providing angst and action in equal measure. The second half of the book, when the creature's full potential and purpose are revealed, did not work so well for me as it transformed into an above average monster thriller. The relationship between Pea and Evan held a lot more potential than the inevitable monster rampage.

There is some attempt to explore the morals of creating creatures who murder each other for sport and even a corporate/nationalistic greed, though the latter is unsuccessful as Baskov, the head of America’s Olympic organisation, spends most of his time acting like a power mad pantomime villain. Nor does Kosmatka try to address the sociopolitical changes which society would have to undergone to even contemplate, not only playing god, in creating such creatures, but also their use as a blood sport entertainment.

That said, the book is undoubtedly well written and if you can take you critical facilities down a notch or two, then there is much to enjoy.


Charles Packer

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