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Achille's Choice Hardcover – September 22, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
The world of 2048 is ruled by a council of computer-enhanced, "linked" people, with new members chosen every four years through a competitive mental, physical and aesthetical Olympics. In training, contender Jillian Shomer debates whether to use a "boost" to enhance her chances. Nobody who has not boosted can prevail over anyone who has, at least in the physical contests, but those who use the boost and do not win will die within 10 years--only the link can counteract its effects and only a council member can be linked. Seeking to learn why the council would so allow the destruction of the majority of the world's finest youths, Jillian discovers unsavory aspects to her utopia. Then someone, or something, catches her spying. Niven and Barnes's ( The Descent of Anansi ) romance-like light fiction, with its predictable plot, loosely drawn characters and no more than a promise of a resolution, is, nevertheless, fun to read.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A masterpiece!" --Andrew M. Greeley
"Larry Niven and Steven Barnes seem to bring out the best in each other. Achilles' Choice is ample proof of that." --Mike Resnick
"Set in an all too plausible, sinister near future, Achilles' Choice not only tells an exciting story, it gives us a great deal to think about." -Poul Anderson
"Achilles' Choice is a rousing tale of men and women pushed beyond competition--into evolution or extinction." --Jerry Pournelle
"An intriguing idea, strikingly presented!" -Gordon R. Dickson
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I think this a great book for teenagers with a little bit of advanced words that they may need to lookup to understand but nothing that will detract away from this pretty darn good book!
Niven and Barnes are one of the better collaborative teams, though not as good as Niven and Jerry Pournelle; Niven and Pournelle complement each other perfectly (Niven is a fair-to-middling writer with great ideas, Pournelle is an excellent writer with mediocre ideas), whereas Steven Barnes is actually a good writer all by himself, and thus doesn't mesh as well with Niven. And -- oh, it's illustrated by Boris Vallejo! Well, alright then: let's read about muscly women in skimpy outifts.
And that's much of the book. The premise is fairly interesting: the Olympics of the future has become a testing ground for the best and the brightest; athletes now have to participate in academic and artistic events along with their athletic events. As the world has moved toward a one-world, corporate-run society, the Olympics is less about national pride. But now there's a twist: athletes can opt to undergo a surgical procedure, called the Boost, that increases their nerve output and makes them quicker, stronger, more coordinated, and also able to think faster and heal better. But it kills them within eight or nine years, and so they only get two Olympics to try for the ultimate prize before they become too damaged to compete -- though if they win, they become Linked, one of the elite members of the ruling class, and they are given a means of managing their screwed-up bodies that gives them back their lifespan. So it's all or nothing: win enough gold medals and get chosen to survive, or fail and die. Since most of the athletes choose to Boost, there is no other option -- an unBoosted person simply can't compete with the Boosted ones.
So it fits in well with our modern version of sports, what with steroids and manic over-training to maintain a competitive edge, and I like that. I love the idea that the athletes have to be complete, rather than one-trick monkeys like our modern overpaid mindless amoral hulks. I like the heroine, to some extent, though there are some annoying things about her, too. But the message of the book is too focused on competition as a means of fixing everything. Too capitalistic for my tastes. I mean, the world has become a single peaceful society, and war is a thing of the past; however, the oligarchy in charge of the world has intentionally kept society from becoming a utopia, because they, like so many other futuristic societies I have read or seen in movies, have realized that a perfect world is self-defeating, that elementary chaos theory as well as a simple reading of human nature shows that people, given paradise, will find a way to mess it up. Okay, I got that; I may even agree, though I think we could find a new concept of what "mess it up" means that would lead to a utopia that we would see as perfection -- like, they live in peace and harmony but they all dress really badly, or something. But the underlying idea is that the heroine is the savior of this society, that she will be the one who fixes all of the problems and makes it better -- and they had to find her through the Olympics. She had to win an athletic contest, after Boosting, to prove herself worthy. The authors tried to construe it as evidence that she'd never give up, that she was willing to do anything to be the best, but come on. The character from Pursuit of Happyness is a far better example of determination than someone who is willing to kill themselves in order to win a goddamn sports event.
Anyway, it was a one-day read, and the Vallejo pictures were actually quite nice; since this was about hyper-athletic people, his usual depiction of perfect human musculature was appropriate here. It was good enough to read.
The only way to win is to take a drug to boost your performance. This drug will kill you in a few years, unless you do manage to win and get into the elite and get treatment.
Behind all this is a conspiracy, and the woman involved discovers there is something not nice going on. Well, not nice compared to the get rid of competitors and other repression that is already going on, anyway.
Achilles Choice was a light but enjoyable read. I am looking forward to a sequel.
I would recommend this novel for the age group 8-22 years of age. If you are an older reader the predictability of the storyline may be discouraging.
this was a fun book. not "great" but definitely fun. it raises some interesting questions, and if you've ever been a competitive athlete at the highest levels, it speaks to you. try to read it thru that lens. it also supposes some concepts that are bound to challenge your political ideals, whatever they may be. but if you like to think about why people strive for power, and what they will do to get it, this is an interesting book. i'm a long time sci fi reader and i won't call this book original or groundbreaking, but i enjoyed it and it made me recall the other times when sci fi and sports have come together in an entertaining way.