The Games - Ted Kosmatka. (2012) (Science Fiction / Horror, Male, New Author)
Blurb from Amazon:
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.Simply put, this was the best science fiction/horror I've ever read. I admit that I do not read too much in either of those genres - and if I knew there were more like Kosmatka's review - I'd probably read much more.
The science fiction premise is intelligent and compelling. While I'm sure some could argue that there's a criticism being made about the future of genetic experimentation, the novel is neither preachy nor condescending. It treats it as more of an inevitability. It's handled well, in the near-future setting, and there were only three small sections of the entire novel where the science went over my head. I suspect it wouldn't have been an issue to those who read science fiction more often.
Characterization in The Games is brilliant. Each character is relatable and perfectly flawed... human. Silas is a passionate scientist who finds himself torn between his passion for science and his years slipping away from him. Vidonia is a well-written female, sensitive, intelligent and strong. Evan is a tragic character, trying hard to find love and acceptance in a world where he is too smart and naive for his own good. Kosmatka pulls no punches in dealing with their story arcs. He deals with each strand in the web without relying upon deux ex machina - each character in the tale comes to a completely reasonable and satisfying, if not tragic, conclusion.
While probably not written or intended as a horror story, the way that Kosmatka handles the gladiator creature is fantastic, honest and compelling. This is exactly what would happen, what should happen, within the circumstances he has constructed. That's what a horror is to me, at least - you cringe and fear at what may seem the inevitable worst case scenario - then fret and panic as it turns out even worse. I ripped through the pages.
Overall, Ted Kosmatka succeeds in writing an excellent story, compelling and tragic, honest and believable, which was full of depth, twists and turns. I couldn't put it down. If you're into science fiction - or horror - I strongly suggest giving it a read.