Friday, November 10, 2017

Review of The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Ahh technology, stairway to utopia or spiral into hell—at least such would be the case in a lot of science fiction.  Middle ground so rarely addressed (yes, it is possible the television is both the source of all evil yet a highly informative, useful tool), many an sf novel has utilized one side of this dichotomy to tell its tale.  Genetic engineering its motif, Ted Kosmatka’s 2012 The Games is a downward spiral into hell.  

Silas is a gene constructor.  Not a gene designer (the distinction important), he has been given a genetic blueprint for the latest Olympic gladiator (a biological creation without human DNA to be put into cage combat) and tasked with bringing the creature into existence.  At the start of the story, the latest gladiator design is emerging from a cow womb, and very quickly the constructors and trainers realize they have something extraordinary on their hands.  The gene designer AI rather than human, the Olympic committee and scientists try to get at the optimized logarithms the AI used, a process which proves both fascinating and horrifying.  The monster growing quickly and intelligently, it isn’t long before Silas, and the world, must contend with the gladiator as it comes into its own.

Given that setup, there are many scenes and situations the reader can expect will happen in The Games.  And for many they would likely not be wrong or far off.  The mood edgy, the gladiator is indeed a revelation of evil.  Fanged, winged, and clawed, it inevitably wrecks blood and havoc.  Kosmatka escalating these scenes in staid fashion, the overall arc of the narrative moves steadily from the relatively mundane to all out horror and chaos—the sympathetic scientist, the maligned Olympic director, the conflicted AI programmer, etc. all caught up in a web of their own devising  There is no real scientific agenda (its seems quite clear Kosmatka is pro-science despite the bloodshed caused by the super-science creation), rather the science and technology surrounding genetic engineering and advanced computer sentience are a means to a thrilling fictional end.

A lot of people have compared The Games to the works of Michael Crichton, and I can’t disagree.  A hard science engine bolted onto a thriller chassis, Kosmatka lightly extrapolates on real world knowledge in exciting fashion.  Not a technophobic story, rather one that uses its scientific knowledge to tell a story that is overtly horror, the order of the days seems pure entertainment rather than social commentary.  In keeping, at nearly every page it’s quite easy to visualize the story splashed across the silver screen. (Strange Horizons review really hits the nail on its head in its summary, and I recommend a read of it as well if you are unconvinced.)

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