Battle Royale

Posted: February 20, 2012 by VerryJerry in Book reviews, Novels
Tags: ,

One of the most underrated yet heavily engaging science fiction writers in the last decade or so would have to be Mathew Reilly. His first book was a major success, not something that many writers achieve on their first book especially since he self published the first run of 1000.

Debuted in 1996, the stand alone novel ‘Contest’ is something that delivered a Gladiator/Alien versus Predator mash-up. It was to be thrown into the big screen in the last few years but never came to as the story is still in ‘development hell.’

Frankly the book is all you really need to know because unlike other novels, Mathew Reilly wrote his stories as if he penned a script for movie(which was his actual intention he always wanted it to be a movie) hence, pretty much his books gave the feel of watching a summer blockbuster( the good ones not the Micheal Bay kind, although there is whole lot of stealth action and epic WTF moments)

Contest basically tells the story of radiologist Stephen Swain who manages to stand-off a gang attack even with no combat experience. So maybe he was lucky shot or maybe not. Things go really awry the moment he’s at home that very night, the environment changes and Swain and his 8-year-old daughter  Holly are quite literally teleported to—-New York Library…

Weird? Apparently not. Once there Swain and his daughter meet unexpected guide, an extraterrestrial being called Selexin. Turns out, as Selexin explains to a bewildered and rather tensed Swain, is that he has been chosen to represent humans(he’s a doctor!) in a battleground called the Presidian(and they picked the New York Library as the venue which is a pretty insane idea since it is a maze literally).

The rules are dead simple: seven different intelligent beings are teleported into the Library, and must kill each other. The last being standing must then find the teleporter that will take them out of the labyrinth. The game doesn’t end there, an animal called the Karanadon will also be in the labyrinth. The Karanadon was teleported into the Labyrinth a day before the contestants and had already killed a security guard at the library. Swain had been chosen to represent Earth because of his ‘natural’ fighting abilities, as demonstrated in the gang fight. Selexin’s species is too small to compete, so they serve as guides and witnesses to a kill. If a contestant says “initialize” a tiny teleporter will appear from a cap on Selexin’s head, allowing officials to see what is going on.

Now here’s the real kicker; clasped to Swain’s wrist is a metal band that indicates how many contestants are in the Library, as well as whether the Karanadon is awake or not. As final a precaution in the game, the whole Library is enclosed in a powerful electrical force field. If Swain were to somehow get out of the Library the band will give him fifteen minutes to get back inside, or he detonates to kingdom come(along with terrified Holly who unfortunately got  teleported for the ride)

The six other contestants are as follows;
Bellos – A Malonian, a species of trophy collectors(the real Predator though without the battle honor and the dreadlocks) widely regarded as the most lethal hunter in the galaxy. Bellos is able to alter his physical shape, allowing him to appear as a tall, muscular man, so as to facilitate usage of door handles and weapons made for the human form. Bellos also has a large pair of horns. He appears dressed in black, with the exception of a golden breastplate taken from a Roman centurion in the fifth Presidian by one of his ancestors.
Reese – A huge crocodile-like creature that uses two antennae to paralyze its prey, and then strikes them with her venomous, sharp, scorpion-like tail. She has no eyes, because her home planet has an extremely thick atmosphere that does not let any light in, and a three-sided jaw. She has a very good sense of smell. Reese is one of the more favoured contestants in the Presidian, and the first that Swain encounters( a very badass encounter brawn and brain as both players played to their strengths)
Balthazar – A Crisean, a species of expert blade-wielding warriors. Like Bellos, he is able to alter his physical shape, and appears as a tall, bearded man. Balthazar and Swain form an alliance when Swain saves him from Reese. Badass like Bellos but with battle honor.
The Rachnid – An alien described as resembling a stick insect. It waits on the ceiling of caves, then jumps down to strangle its prey with its eight strong, spider-like legs. This guy was real camper just very lethal.
The Konda – An insectoid with claws that contain a powerful toxin. It cannot breathe Earth’s oxygen, and so uses a breathing mask. This guy put a fight and played fair.
The Codex – black-colored alien with a floating triangular head, and a body and tail of trailing spheres. It moves by silently hovering through the air.

The other non contestants (who still could be killed anyway) are Holly(who really made herself resourceful given her age and vulnerability) their guide Selexin, Hoodaya an exceptionally fierce and vicious predator that has not yet evolved into a race considered intelligent enough to compete in the Presidian. They are little more than hunting dogs(like in Predators) and have been known to kill a Karanadon before; the only recorded example of one being hunted. The “hoods”, as they are referred to, are introduced illegally into the Presidian by Bellos to ensure his victory,  then there is The Karanadon an enormous dormant beast already located inside the Library before the contest begins, to be awakened in case the participants will not or cannot kill each other in a specified time. Only one has been killed in the wild, by Bellos and his “hoods”. It is described as having enormously powerful arms and a jackal-like head and ears, another human is pulled into this game is Paul Hawkins a library cop who tries to help and lastly a tough SWAT unit who all get killed anyway by the aliens.

Facing odds from all ends Swain has to find a way to get his daughter to safety  and to survive but the plot really keeps twisting with added suspense and eventually peaks up to a real intense climax. Contest really is at its core is a story of survival while throwing constant thrilling WTF moments with real witty dialogue and whole lot of sarcasm. Highly recommended for the avid sci-fi or adventure fantasy fan.

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