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Ted Kosmatka – The Games

ByCrazyivanuk

Jul 5, 2012

Review By: David Stonehouse
TitanBooks £7.99

The Games is a technothriller out of the Michael Crichton/Robert Harris/Dan Brown mould. It’s Ted Kosmatka’s debut novel and you certainly can’t fault him for his ideas and imagination. We’re in a very near future where the technologies of genetic s and computing are just a few steps further on than our own. The main premise is that genetic manipulation has reached a point where new creatures can be created and a new Olympic event has been introduced where nations enter their creations to fight each other to the death in the arena. This Frankenstein-like concept raises a few obvious moral and ethical questions that should add depth to the adventure.

The novel follows the fortunes of two key characters linked by their connection to the games. First up is the gifted but socially inept computer scientist Evan Chandler who has created an astonishingly complex computer at the Brannin Institute. Its power is way beyond anything seen before and it’s so expensive to run that connecting to it through the virtual interface is limited to mere minutes. Before long it becomes apparent that the Brannin has achieved a level of sentience but worryingly its intentions and agenda are anything but clear. The Brannin computer has been used to create the genetic code of the USA’s new Gladiator to fight in the games. Our second lead is Doctor Silas Williams whose job it is to oversee the birth and development of the Gladiator up until it goes into battle. Almost immediately after its birth the new creature begins to show very worrying traits. Silas attempts to unravel what the Brannin has created by enlisting the help of extraterrestrial biological expert Doctor Vidonia Joao but the more they learn the more the fear the terrible potential of the new Gladiator.
This is a time old ‘meddling with science’ fable and we all know how those end up. In true Frankenstein/Jurassic Park/28 Days Later/insert man-made apocalypse story of your choice style everything rapidly descends into angry monster/deranged supercomputer chaos and it’s a race against time to save the world. Inevitably, as Silas and Vidonia try to prevent disaster they are hindered at every turn by the powerful and greedy who ignore the dangers in pursuit of their own power and glory.

The double act of Silas and Vidonia as our brave heroes is one of the successes of the book. They are well drawn and likeable which makes it easy to root for them as they battle against the odds. Evan Chandler is interesting but underused as the social inadequate happier in the virtual environment of his computer than he is in the real world. The concept of a sentient supercomputer turning on its human creators is nothing new but Kosmatka presents the god-like intelligence and its virtual world with vivid originality. In terms of delivering thethrills and spills of the adventure some of the action set pieces are well handled and it’s clear that Kosmatka has a very cinematic sensibility because it is easy to imagine many of these moments being very powerful on the big screen.

There is the potential here for something really special but unfortunately the book falls short on too many levels. The main problem is that the book doesn’t stop to explore the many interesting concepts it presents. The important thing seems to be trying to keep the plot racing along at roller coaster pace but all the emotional depth is missing. Too many questions remain unanswered. Not the least of these is: how the hell does a vicious gladiatorial bloodsport square with the Olympic ideals? And then we never learn why the Gladiator has been designed to be what he is. The supercomputer doesn’t become sentient until after it has blueprinted the creature so there’s no clues there.

In a Frankenstein tale like this you might expect some exploration of the ethics of reckless scientific advance but there’s little of this. Equally you might expect some interesting parallels with our voyeuristic entertainment culture and the bloodthirsty arena sports of, say, ancient Rome, but no, that’s glossed over in a hurry too. There’s too much of a race to rush the plot on to the next big incident and, while the plot rattles along breathlessly, it prevents the reader from ever really caring very deeply about what’s happening.

Ultimately, this is a book with bags of potential that never quite delivers. Too many questions are never properly resolved and there isn’t enough emotional punch to give it a real heart. The Games is diverting enough to entertain for a while but despite the enthusiastic cover quotes this falls a long way short of the technothriller classics. The masters make these books seem simple but they really aren’t. Getting the balance of pace, character, science and thought-provoking morality right is an art in itself.

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