Contest
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2003
As Matthew Reilly has explained, this book was intended to be a no holds barred action adventure. Its very nature is to entertain and no apologies are made for the outrageous escapes or impossibly feats of heroics. I think he has met his goal in no uncertain terms.
Dr Stephen Swain has been handed one of the most sought after and prestigious opportunities in the universe. He has been chosen to represent Earth in the Presidian, a game played against the other 6 inhabited worlds. What an honour! What an opportunity! There's only 1 catch, the game is actually a fight to the death. Seven participants enter a labyrinth but only one leaves. Oh yeah, and Earth's participants have all performed remarkably poorly in past events.
Swain is afforded an advantage albeit a small one. This Presidian will be fought on his home ground or, more specifically, inside the New York Public Library. But any advantage he may have begins and ends there. Apparently, because previous representatives from Earth who were chosen based on their warrior backgrounds have performed so badly, Swain's selection was based solely on his ability to think his way around problems. So he enters a deadly fight to the death armed with - his wits.
So the battle begins after a quick rundown of the rules and the action becomes frenetic. It's a frantic bid for survival against the odds that doesn't fail in it's number one objective - namely to provide edge of the seat thrills.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2005
Fans of Matthew Reilly will be pleased with "Contest". The novel is actually Reilly's first novel, although it was published after a few of his books (Ice Station and Temple) made it big. Readers of those two books will find "Contest" every bit as exciting and frenetic as those two earlier offerings.

"Contest" is a story about a "battle royale" that takes place every millenium or so between representatives of the 7 major populated social systems in the universe. This time, however, the site of this contest known as "The Presidium", is the New York City Public Library with its miles of tunnels and booklined aisleways. In past Presidiums, the human contestant has always been the first to be eliminated. This time around, Earth is much better represented by a tough-edged, bulldog of a man known as Stephen Swain. Swain's handicap is that as he is being (unwillingly) transported to take part in The Presidium (the reasons why are more than a little unsubstantiated) his young daughter, is transported with him.

Reilly's patterned style of guts, gore and exciting action are all present in this novel as Swain attempts to keep himself and his daughter alive through the contest. Reilly does a good job introducing the reader to the other competitors and creating some memorable characters in the process. Introduced along the way for comic relief, is Swain's guide, Selexin, who helps Swain work his way through the roster of competitors while serving as a great sidekick.

"Contest" is an extremely fast reading book and is hard to put down. In this reviewer's estimation, it's not quite as exciting or polished as the two aforementioned novels, but one needs to remember that this is Reilly's debut novel.

Give it a try, especially if you've read anything else by Reilly. You will find it comical and infantile in his scope at time, but always exciting and fast-moving.

RECOMMENDED
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Radiologist Dr. Stephen Swain and his elementary school aged daughter Holly are in their Long Island home relaxing after a day at the hospital and school respectfully. However, aliens feel the widower will make a good participant in their cross species death contest based on Stephen's efforts that ended a violent problem. The ETs teleport Stephen and Holly to the New York 42nd Street Public Library to play in a deadly game of survivor.
The rules are simple: win or die. Seven species will compete until only one is left standing to confront the Karandon, a killing machine who has carved up the library security guard. Escape is impossible as a deadly electrical field encloses the building and immovable wrist bands will incinerate any of the contestants. Let the games begin.
The reader needs to move past technologically advanced aliens hosting deadly games sort of like an intergalactic Roman Forum (and several other questionable actions). If the reader can pass that critical go, the story line packs quite a wallop as the taut action leads to the audience rooting for the home team. Somewhat mindful of a Kirk Star Trek show (see "The Gamesters of Triskelion" episode), readers who relish action to the nth degree will join the ultimate survivor CONTEST, but with a galaxy of skepticism along for the ride.
Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2010
However, I did like this book.
Sci-fi adventures like Star Trek usually bore me to tears, so I avoid epic journeys through dead space like the plague. I'm just not someone who can appreciate classics such as Predator, Alien, and The Blob. There are only so many good plot lines in the science fiction genre and they get recycled over and over again with each new generation of writers.
That said, it comes as no surprise that the 'death battle' scenario found in 'Contest' has been used before. My advise - GET OVER IT. This book may not receive the 'Best Book of All Time' award (if there was such a thing), but were you honestly looking for that in Matthew Reilly novel? 'Contest' is a steady rush of action, anticipation, suspense, and mystery. Even when the book takes a second to let the reader catch their breath, another random element is instantly introduced to shake things up again. Let's not forget that this alien death match takes place inside the New York Public Library ... in the middle of an oblivious New York City.

Personally, I believe Matthew Reilly succeeded in creating an action-packed thriller that is, at the very least, a very fun read. As for the whiners in 'one-star', if a good book was only dictated by perfect grammar, we wouldn't have Harry Potter, now would we.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2004
Matthew Reilly has successfully captured his boyhood fascination for aliens, monsters, godzilla like lizards and hobbits (almost like one) in this book. It's one cool book which is hard to put down and it takes you to a roller coaster ride right from the start. It is a fast paced action thriller in which a simple doctor is put to a contest with 6 other warriors from different Alien races. The plot becomes more complex as his 9 year old daughter is also caught in between aliens and monsters. If you like science fiction and thoroughly enjoy fights (Nasty fights), you would love this one. And by the way switch off your brains when you pick one up for a trip.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Contest is Mathew Reilly's first book. It originally failed to attract a publisher and Reilly published it himself. Initially it was not that successful but it put his name out in the market and he was able to find a publisher for his second book Ice Station that was a success. This edition of Contest is somewhat expanded from the first version and has some more alien characters included.
The plot is that every thousand years all intelligent members of the galaxy send a representative to fight to the death in a sort of sporting event called the Presidium. Earth as an intelligent life form has a representative but unlike the other races they do not know about it until a contestant is whisked to a remote location to battle with six other species. Generally humans have done badly in this competition no doubt as they have not had the chance to prepare for it but also because the alien races are bigger and tougher.
Previously the runners of this intergalactic event have chosen humans with a military background. However on this occasion they choose a human who hit the newspapers as a result of being confronted with and fighting off some robbers. That is not someone with a combat record but with the reputation as a fast thinker. The hero is a Dr Swain who by accident is teleported with his daughter to the contest arena which in this case is the New York Public Library which is sealed off from the outside world by a field of electricity.
The book is a reasonably typical horror flick with people walking down book lined corridors and finding that bad things happen as monsters come out from behind large stacks of books. Will Dr Swain end up dead or will he end up doing rounds of the intergalactic talk shows as earth's first major celebrity?
Reilly is a writer who in his media interviews candidly says that his books are not meant to be epic works of fiction aimed at educating the world about the meaning of life. Rather he sees books as entertainments like action movies but unlike action movies the freedom to imagine means that there are no restrictions on budget or special effects. As such most of them have been successful. The one exception is his third book which suffered the problem of being set in a defined historical period. His fiction is best when it is set in imaginary worlds. This book is surprisingly entertaining and professional as a first work. That is probably reflective of its revision and expansion from its original form. Still a great airport book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I had no idea this was a sci-fi story when I bought this off the shelves. I read the back of the book and was drawn to the premise of seven contestants trapped in the New York Public Library and given the directive to kill all other combatants because only the last man left standing will be granted egress. I thought, "This'll be a cool thriller." But pretty early in the pages I realized that CONTEST is more a hybrid thriller/sci-fi/horror story, and I was fine with that, too.

The outrageous premise, really quickly: For the past 7000 years, every millenium, a contest called the Presidian takes place which pits to the death the representatives of the seven known sentient alien races in the galaxy. For the past two contests, an Earthling has competed but, each time, was embarassingly the first to be eliminated. This time, the Presidian takes place in the confines of the New York Public Library, which has been sealed from outside intervention by an electrical force field. Also, should the combatants somehow end up outside the library, a bomb strapped to each of their bodies will detonate after a given amount of time. Mild mannered and intellectual, Dr. Stephen Swain unknowingly and involuntarily becomes the champion of Earth, and, from the get-go, it seems as if our hero is supremely inadequate to the task. Nevertheless, a world of hurt, terror, and predatory nastiness is about to land on his cerebral noggin. Let the game begin...

Don't look for in-depth characterization here or scintillating dialogue. The writing is no frills and almost pedestrian. The author doesn't waste too many pages laying down the story groundwork (just enough time to introduce the protagonist Dr. Stephen Swain and, also, certain set-up events at the sprawling New York Public Library). Fairly soon, the novel gets to the nitty gritty of the author's strength as it coalesces into a slam bang, non-stop action set piece replete with harrowing chases and last-second derring-dos. On a certain level, I enjoyed this story tremendously. It reads quite a bit like a combination of what the films PREDATOR and ALIENS would've been like if in book form. CONTEST is like a good quickie, redolent with cheap thrills and instant gratification, but, then, in the morning, it slinks out your door whilst you lay sleeping, probably absconding with your watch as well.

As already mentioned, the author forgoes much insight into and development of his characters, going, instead, for the taut pacing, tension, and space alien elements to carry the day. But the lack of depth in the characters prevents the reader from truly warming to them, and this is especially with regards to the main protagonist. Imagine how much more concerned we'd be with his welfare if we actually cared more for Stephen Swain? Nevertheless, Swain seems like a pleasant enough guy and there is added investment in his young daughter being trapped in the enclosed building with him as each of the six lethal alien monsters seems to take turns in lurking at every corner. Apparently, Swain was selected to be Earth's representative because of his combination of wits and combat skills. This is where I have a problem. First of all, his combat skills are practically nil, irregardless of one particular, violent encounter in his past. Secondly, even though Swain is a doctor and must, therefore, be fairly intelligent, surely the alien powers that be could've chosen another more brainy than him. Admittedly, however, he does make good use of his lobes in extricating himself from several tight spots. I like the fact that, in times of peril, Swain doesn't resort to Rambo-like skills. He overcomes by dint of his bravery, his intellect, and his sense of decency. By the way, I was hoping there'd be even more interactions between Swain and his daughter, Holly, who, by the way, seems to be one of those young, cute wunderkinds who remain mostly (and unconvincingly?) poised and quiet when the fit has hit the shan.

CONTEST is the Aussie author's first novel, which he had to self-publish in 1996; this book perhaps blanketed too many genres, causing it to be rejected by a host of Australian publishers. This version here has been re-published by St. Martin's Press in 2003, and, as Reilly himself notes in his interview in the back of the book, some alterations were effected - the biggest of which is that his fictional New York State Library in the original became the actual New York Public Library here (when the author finally had enough cash to visit New York and take notes). The overall story structure remains virtually the same; but this version, mostly for its audacious, careening-off-the-tracks storyline and despite the lack of character and story depth, gets three and a half stars from me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2005
Reilly fans who loved ICE STATION/TEMPLE/AREA7 will enjoy CONTEST. And for those who did not like his later works you may be surprised with CONTEST.

Reily first made his entrance into the action genre with CONTEST but difficulty in getting it published prevented it from getting the exposure that his later novels received. However, his fame from ICE STATION helped to re-introduce CONTEST.

THe storyline is creatively brilliant and yet simple...Every thousand years a free for all battle to the death called The Presidium is held between seven contestants; each one from seven different predatory alien species thoughout the galaxy.

Earth's representative is an unwittingly chosen yet resourceful young ER doctor. To add to the suspense his young daughter is accidentally transported with him to the battleground.

The battleground this time is the venerable New York Public Library in a clear statement of sanctimonious hypocrasy; a brilliant setting! Thousands of books and works of arts are destroyed during the brutal and vicious fights between all sorts of hideous, grotesque creatures.

To ensure a contestant does not try to escape there is an added explosive piece of motivation to stay. And if there is one survivor from the seven original contestants he/she/it must get past a 14-foot tall ape-like creature called a Karanadon as the final challenge.

The author even adds a humanoid-like sidekick called Selexin which aides the Earthling during the battle. A alien in the beginning, this Selexin becomes "human" towards the end.

Yes, it's a B-Type novel but...the entire storyline is brilliant, plain and simple.

Interestingly, the main character Stephen Swain has the same initials as Reilly's later hero Shane Schofield. One could even argue that Swain joined the Marines and became Shane Schofield.

Even after reading ICE STATION/TEMPLE/AREA7 I still found CONTEST a unique, refreshing, and thoroughly creative thrill ride.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Matthew Reilly's sci-fi thriller, "Contest," has a far-out premise. It seems that a gladiatorial contest is being held in the New York Public Library between one human and six aliens. The contest, known as the Presidian, is a fight to the death and only one entrant will remain alive at the end. Participating against his will is a doctor named Stephen Swain. Swain is teleported to the library, along with his eight-year-old daughter Holly, who comes along with her father by accident. Swain has a guide to help him, a benign and diminutive alien named Selexin.

"Contest" is non-stop adventure, with plenty of slime and gore for those who enjoy such things. There is no character development to speak of, and there is not one shred of realism to disrupt the hyperactive proceedings. Swain has no weapons at his disposal, except for whatever he finds lying around the library, and he needs to think quickly on his feet to outsmart his bloodthirsty opponents. Not only is Swain fairly cool under pressure, but his eight-year-old daughter is remarkably composed, considering the horrifying things that she sees during this unasked-for thrill ride.
If you enjoy weird aliens jumping out of dark corners to attack people, then "Contest" is for you. In its own goofy way, it is kind of fun. I must admit, though, that I hate the idea of people and/or aliens fighting to the death in a public library, especially since I am a public librarian.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2007
Contest is a guilty pleasure. Like Alien or Predator, it is a fight to the death between humans and aliens. The difference here is that the battle is part of a deliberately staged gladiator match between species which takes place in the New York Public Library instead of the Coliseum.

Dr. Stephen Swain and his eight year old daughter are involuntarily drawn into the Presidian, a once every thousand year battle to the death between seven species. However, because homo sapiens were a recent addition to the contest (making only their second appearance), they were the only species which didn't know about the contest beforehand. This leaves Dr. Swain with the unenviable task of trying to survive long enough to figure out the rules of the game.

This book is enjoyable because it doesn't try to be anything more than a fast-paced adventure story with an engaging premise. The protagonist, Dr. Stephen Swain, makes a good hero because he is a reluctant killer. He was selected for the Presidian based on his actions in subduing an armed gang in the ER. Thus, he is neither a hunter nor a warrior, unlike the other contestants. His humanity is only heightened by his need to protect his daughter who was inadvertently drawn into the conflict. The story methodically builds to a climax only to reveal new danger which must be overcome by the enterprising physician.
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