Lisa Eskra's Reviews > The Games

The Games by Ted Kosmatka
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Feb 14, 2012

it was ok
Read in February, 2012

I had high hopes for this one, but it never really came together for me. It didn't help that there were so many plot holes and inaccuracies, I could drive a truck through them.

The blurb casts this as "Jurassic Park" meets "Hunger Games." It's more like "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" with mutants (and without the compelling plot that went along with it). And I don't know about anyone else, but the gladiator seemed to look a lot like Toothless from "How to Train Your Dragon".

The entire premise for the novel is really far-fetched. Genetic mutants competing in a gladiatorial competition as part of the Olympics? Honestly, how would this be any different than adding cock-fighting? Or dog-racing (or anything else featuring something besides people)? It really needed to be an independent sporting event. Something new. It was a poor decision to connect it with the Olympics; it makes absolutely no sense in the scope of the Olympics. They allow genetic manipulation in this event but none of the human ones. And it's always in the United States. And it's attended by the President and other heads of state. That pretty much sounds NOTHING like the Olympics.

Some of the science stuff sounds like it was copied right out of a biology textbook. The description of gel electrophoresis stands out in my mind. "He stained the newly attenuated DNA with an ethidium bromide standard and bathed the set in ultraviolet light for a full six minutes. As expected, the result was an unbroken fluorescence down the entire column of gel lane. Benjamin then used the Southern blot technique to develop the reference standard he'd need later." During the climax, he gives an MSDS rundown of sulfuric acid, but then makes the blatant error of saying it smells like rotten eggs. Know your subject, please.

Kosmatka has some weird point-of-view work that I really didn't care for, characters popping up who may or may not have even been given a name and are never seen again. Very often, it seemed like the alternate POVs only served to postpone the tension, instead of adding interesting side-plots or expanding upon what Silas knows. This big, bad, exciting thing is about to happen and then -- we're farting around with Evan or whoever else. It annoyed me as a reader, and I started scanning through them.

Beyond Silas (who really treads Marty Stu territory), the rest are bland and underdeveloped. The VR world of Evan's creation is an odd side-plot in this novel that never really meshes well with the gladiator/Olympics. I felt like the author went overboard trying to humanize Evan, and from a likability standpoint, I never empathized with him. An evil supercomputer who thinks it's God, nice to see the author beating that to death. The gladiator is overpowered on every level and broke my threshold of disbelief for what's presented as plausible future technology.

I got a bit tired of characters describing their appearances and/or ancestry. It's a sloppy way to develop characters. Vidonia's introduction is rife with it, way to feed the perception that women are always judged on their looks first, as opposed to brains (it's okay for Evan to be a smart, fat slob but Vidonia needs a face like something from a "fashion show"). It is refreshing, though, to see a woman of color in a major role, but it quickly became obvious that her major purpose was to help develop Silas via some contrived relationship. As soon as they wind up sleeping together, her character is reduced to being his sexy plaything (instead of being a smart scientist working on the project). The ending tries to redeem her but it felt too little, too late.

In spite of these flaws, the book wasn't too bad. The action scenes are amazingly well written; the tension and imagery is so visceral, it puts the reader right there in the midst of it. And that's even with the predictable plot (in that sense, comparing it to Jurassic Park does it no favors). Many scenes only develop characters without furthering the plot, which might have been okay if they weren't so transparent in purpose. As far as overall plot, not much happens until Part 3, when the gladiator competition actually starts. After that, it turns into something out of a B-rate sci-fi movie. And could the denouement have been any more cliche?

In summary, the novel never really gels. It's a techie mix of research and thriller with heaps of random melodrama for character-building. The text is pulled in too many directions. If the plot had been tighter and more believable, this would've been a good book.
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