by Ted Kosmatka
Cover Artist: Design and Illustration by David Steveson, based on a photography
by Reichelt R. / plainpicture / Corbis
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345526618
Date: 13 March 2012 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Reading Ted Kosmatka's bizarre, highly entertaining novel, The Games, brought back many fond memories of novels and films that I've read and watched during the seventies and eighties. Foremost in my memory is David Seltzer's best-seller Prophecy. (He's the same author who penned The Omen.) Prophecy, which was also a film that was promoted as "The Monster Movie", is about a genetic freak that wreaks havoc on a small, isolated town in Maine where mercury from a paper mill has polluted a river. Britain made the film Doomwatch, which has a similar theme.
Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and Dean Koontz's The Demon Seed also came to mind. The birth of the mutant creature known as the Helix Project newborn is an unholy, gruesome one involving computers. A cow dies giving birth to the mutant that is conceived by a virtual reality computer, which appears to have become self aware as in Demon Seed. It aids Evan Chandler in his quest for vengeance. We've all learned from watching The Terminator and its numerous sequels that computers having the ability to think independently are dangerous. The fact that human DNA is not allowed to be used in creating the gladiators reminded me of Whitley Strieber's recently published Hybrids--an excellent science fiction horror novel. In this case, humanoids are created using a mixture of alien and animal DNA.
In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton told a frightening tale of using complex DNA sequencing to re-create prehistoric monsters. In The Games, new monsters, never before seen on this planet, are created. Either way, these are all creatures that are not meant to exist. All are manufactured for evil purposes involving greed. Once again, the Bread and Circuses of ancient Rome is alive. Modern man is quenching his thirst for violence by watching poor animals fight each other to the death. Man can not be happy unless he is subjugating, conquering and/or vanquishing something. Unfortunately, he has met his match in the Helix Project newborn. The catastrophe at the end of the novel is a fitting end to a city that, in the future, has become, in many respects, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
A moral conundrum is presented by Five Ridge Laboratories, where the Helix Project is conducted, and the Olympic Commission. The genetic experiments that have created the monsters have also helped trigger advancements in medicine. Diseases are being cured and birth defects prevented. Many people complained that the Apollo Space Program was an exorbitant waste of money. However, it vastly improved technology from water filtering to kidney dialysis to flame-resistant materials that protect firemen. Sometimes, it seems difficult to make advancements in technology without making sacrifices. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, these sacrifices involved family and friends. Silas Williams of The Games behaves in much the same manner as Victor Frankenstein; he is alarmed and distraught when his creation doesn't look and behave in accordance to his plans.
The setting of The Games is primarily Southern California in the near future. At preservation safaris, hunters use rubber tipped arrows to shoot deer; microchips implanted in the animal provide computer printouts as to the exact location of the arrow's strike. The law requires that bartenders give the designated driver of a group a drink called D-hy that is suppose to sober them. People sign primary nuptial contracts; at the end of the contract, participants may wish to renew it forever. This makes marriage sound a lot like joining the military. A mutant known as a bear teddy is the fourth most popular pet after dogs, cats and domesticated foxes.
I grew up watching creature features and nature gone wild films. I've seen all the killer rat and killer bee movies. I especially loved the ones where everyday pests eat a mysterious substance and grow enormous such as in Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants. Ted Kosmatka's The Games was a fun trip down memory lane. When you've seen as many science fiction horror mutant monster movies as I have, the novel's ending can be seen a mile away. The subplot disaster was shocking but only in the sense that I found it shocking that anyone would still believe that scenario was remotely possible. It reminded me of a scene in Irwin Allen's film, The Swarm (based on Arthur Herzog's best-seller) in which the killer bees cause a disaster that was quite unrealistic. Nevertheless, I found The Games very intriguing and spellbinding and can't help but hope that Kosmatka is working on another novel involving genetic monsters. Perhaps Hollywood will turn The Games into a film.
Fans of genetic mutations, either manmade or occurring naturally, may want to read Warren Fahy's highly acclaimed novel, Fragment. A group of reality show contestants explore an isolated island; they are soon slaughtered by creatures that have evolved independently from the rest of the world. For example, there are multi-legged tiger-like mammals that runs and leaps in spider fashion. The mortality rate on this island is so high that creatures are born pregnant.