You have to admire the genius of "the pitch" as well as the marketing executives and publicists that come up with pithy phrases or easily identifiable concepts to help pre-sell books or movies. It's an invaluable sales tool that can work wonders, but can also lead to disappointment. Ted Kosmatka's debut novel "The Games" hooked me with the tantalizing promise of "Jurassic Park meets The Hunger Games." The wonderful visuals and possibilities of just such a pairing are virtually irresistible! Seriously, GREAT PITCH!!! And yet, while Kosmatka has served up a fun and gruesome adventure, it never quite fulfills the expectations that it was sold on. But, you know what, that's okay. Judged on its own merits, this is a page turning chiller that does incorporate Crichton-esque concepts into fast paced escapism. It's a satisfying science fiction vision that sets up a terrific premise, but doesn't always follow through as efficiently as it might. While it may not rank with my favorites, it is certainly a book that I tore right through and is an easy recommendation to fans of the genre.
I think it's fair to say that "The Games" doesn't aspire to be the next literary masterwork, it aims to entertain with its chilling and unusual premise that combines genetic engineering with artificial intelligence. And that it does. The most compelling character in "The Games" is a computer genius perched on the edge of sanity. Having created a revelatory computer, complete with an adaptive system of learning, Evan Chandler has become increasingly removed from reality. Set in the not-so-distant future, the book posits a world where the Olympic ceremonies kick off with an International battle of genetically engineered creatures. As the reigning champion, the United States (and program leader Silas Williams) has received this year's specifications from Chandler's super computer. The biological specimen they create based on these specs is unlike anything that anyone has ever seen and its unorthodox features and volatile temper make it a concern. But politics trump safety and the project moves forward as planned. Needless to say, the concerns are not unfounded and in a classic tale of science gone awry, a cataclysmic danger is unleashed.
As an adventure story, I really liked "The Games." The entire storyline involving the Olympic competitor is handled well and brings about some truly exciting set pieces. Its resolution does seem a bit pat, however, as the creation seems virtually indestructible in the set-up. I was also intrigued by the Chandler character and his relationship to the computer world of his devising. This plot thread poses some interesting questions, but not enough time is spent with Chandler to make this story as enlightening as it might have been. What was less successful, to me, was how these two disparate plot points were integrated. In many ways, they seem completely removed from one another. Each alone might have been the star of their own novel, and probably should have been (or been a part of a much broader story and explored in more depth). Add the completely cliched ending, and there are a number of missed opportunities within Kosmatka's debut. Still, the book is thoroughly entertaining but lacks some of the components necessary to make it truly great. About 3 1/2 stars, I will round up because it's an easy and fun read. KGHarris, 2/12.