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 specialised 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.
The Games is one of those books that on the face of it, looks pretty derivative. There have been umpteen books on genetic experimentation, and the load of techno-thrillers out there is immense, but despite this, I still found myself enjoying this taut and tense thriller.
The story of genetically engineered animals fighting each other in a futuristic Olympic Games is a pretty compelling (and enjoyably ludicrous) one. The future that we see isn’t one of flashing neon and hover cars, but something which feels genuine- with glimpses of technology that have changed people’s lives, such as a shot that reverses being drunk. The book hangs on a strong idea, and Kosmatka has built a very efficient story around it.
The one major draw back is the characterisation. With such a high concept plot, it’s easy to see why Kosmatka didn’t feel the need to flesh them out completely, as you are constantly distracted from moments of introspection by a moment of tension or peril. But, the central character, Silas, is essentially morally dubious, given his involvement in genetically mutating animals to create ‘gladiatorial entertainment.’ This could have been developed and looked at in more detail to make the reader sympathise with him, to question why and how he justifies his work and to make him a more complex character. But, as it’s a techno-thriller, that’s not really the point. It’s a gung-ho, tense and exciting thriller that doesn’t dwell on bigger issues (though it does touch on them). You know where the book is going from the first chapter and it’s no less fun because of it.
It’s a great bit of holiday popcorn that kept me entertained, so I’d recommend this one in the same way as you might the latest Tom Cruise film: you know what you’re going to get, so don’t over-think it.