Contest (novel)

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Australian edition cover
Author Matthew Reilly
Country Australia
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Pan Macmillan
Publication date
1996 (original version), 2000 (re-release), 2003 (US)
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 347 pages
ISBN 0-7329-1032-3
OCLC 48761577
823/.914 21
LC Class PR9619.3.R445 C66 2000
Followed by Ice Station

Contest is the self-published first novel by Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly. In 1996, after being rejected by several Australian publishing houses, Reilly personally paid for 1000 copies of the book to be published privately under the label of 'Karanadon Entertainment', and sold them himself.

Before publishing the novel in North America, Reilly rewrote most of the novel, placing the contest in the New York Library, rather than a fictitious library, and added descriptions of and encounters with the other contestants to improve his story.


The story focuses on Dr. Stephen Swain, a radiologist, who manages to fight off two gang members despite having no combat experience. While at home, Swain and his daughter Holly are teleported into the New York City Library. A mysterious alien named Selexin explains that Swain has been chosen to represent humans in a contest called the Presidian. The rules are simple: seven different intelligent beings are teleported into a place such as the Library, and must fight to the death. The last being standing must then find the teleporter that will take them out of the labyrinth. However, an animal called the Karanadon will also be in the labyrinth. The Karanadon was teleported into the Labyrinth a day before the contestants and has already killed Ryan, a security guard at the library. Swain has 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.

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 a final precaution in the game, the whole Library is enclosed in a powerful electrical field. If Swain were to somehow get out of the Library the band will give him fifteen minutes to get back inside, and will explode if he fails to do so.

Meanwhile, two police officers named Paul Hawkins and Christine Parker are spending the night in the Library after the incident with the security guard's death. Seeing a light down in the stack, Hawkins goes to investigate, leaving Parker alone in the Lobby. Another contestant named Bellos arrives in the lobby and has some unknown creatures who kill Parker.

Down in the stack, Hawkins encounters a crocodile-like alien named Reese, who hypnotizes him. Before she can kill him, Swain intervenes and Hawkins escapes. However, Selexin points out that while contestants cannot kill each other at this stage of the contest, they can follow each other. Swain, Holly, Selexin, and Hawkins rush into the parking garage to escape as the final contestant, Balthazar, arrives. In the ensuing fight, Reese injures Balthazar but Swain attacks her and drags Balthazar to an elevator.

Having survived, the group tries to regroup in the lobby, but see Bellos and another contestant, called the Konda. Just as the Konda is about to kill Bellos, hunting animals called hoodayas, or hoods, attack and kill the Konda. Selexin and Balthazar's guide say that the Presidian is over: Bellos has cheated by bringing in the hoods, making him an invincible opponent and the definite winner. Before the hoods can kill the group, Reese, who has figured out how to work an elevator, appears and the group flees in the carnage, to a janitor’s closet.

Unfortunately, they have stumbled upon the Karanadon's nest. The creature wakes, and kills Balthazar's guide before Swain tricks it into falling down an elevator shaft, knocking it out. Now separated, Swain, Holly, and Selexin find a door Fraser left open to the outside world. Before they can escape, Bellos attacks. Swain manages to kill two of the hoods but the door slams shut, becoming electrified, and trapping him outside, alone and with his wristband counting down. To complicate matters, the NSA has arrived, and is trying to keep people from getting near the library. Finally, Swain manages to uses a magnet in a phone to create a gap in an electrical window and gets back inside.

Back in the janitor's closet, Hawkins and Balthazar are attacked by a contestant called the Codex. Balthazar and the Codex kill each other and in the process start a fire. Holly and Selexin manage to escape the stack. Bellos gives chase, and kills Hawkins and the final contestant, called the Rachnid, but one of his hoods is killed by Holly and Selexin.

Down in the parking garage, Swain encounters a psychopathic NSA agent named Henry Quaid, who has managed to get into the Library. He is killed suddenly by Reese, who Swain manages to electrocute. While rummaging around, he finds a paper in Quaid's pocket showing power surges every time something is teleported into the Library. By luck, he also finds Holly and Selexin, and uses Selexin's teleporter to kill the final hood, by teleporting half its body away to watching officials. After killing Bellos by crushing him beneath an elevator, Swain's wristband tells him that, because the Presidian has been "contaminated", the final teleporter will not be opened and everything, including Selexin and the Karanadon, will be left behind. Swain realizes that Bellos teleported a teleportation device into the Library, so that at the end of the game he could send the hoods away, and not be discovered cheating. Selexin is teleported away, with the promise to have the escape device teleported back.

The electrical field around the Library drops, and the wristband begins its countdown sequence in order to kill all contestants and dispose of the evidence. The Karanadon awakes and chases Swain out into a park near the Library. In the fighting, Swain's band gets knocked off. He clips it to the Karanadon and flees. The NSA watches as the wristbands explode, destroying all trace of the Karanadon and also destroying the Library. The novel ends with Swain and Holly going home on a subway.


There are seven contestants in The Presidian, although the focus of the book is Swain, along with Bellos, Reese and Balthazar. There are several other non-contestant characters also shown throughout the story.

Stephen Swain A doctor, and the main character of the story, who lives with his daughter Holly. Swain, along with his daughter, is sent into the contest representing Earth.
Bellos A Malonian, a species of trophy collectors 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. Bellos is one of the last contestants left alive, having cheated to win. He is crushed by a descending elevator killing him instantly.
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. He later kills her by electrocution.
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; Balthazar later sacrifices himself to kill the Codex in the janitor's closet.
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. The Rachnid is Bellos's second kill.
The Konda An insectoid with claws that contain a powerful toxin. It cannot breathe Earth's oxygen, and so uses a breathing mask. The Konda is the first contestant killed in the Presidian, torn apart by the hoods. Bellos collects it's breathing apparatus as a trophy.
The Codex A black-colored alien with a floating triangular head, and a body and tail of trailing spheres. It moves by silently hovering through the air. It is killed when Balthazar sacrifices himself to allow Paul Hawkins to escape the Codex.
Holly Swain Stephen Swain's eight-year-old daughter; she is accidentally teleported inside the library along with her father. She is not supposed to be a contestant, but cannot leave the library until the contest is over.
Selexin Stephen Swain's guide through the contest. Its race are too small participate in the Presidian, so they serve as witnesses of the kills. One witness is assigned to each contestant and uses an egg shaped hat to teleport deceased contestants back to the contest authorities. Selexin is initially distraught to be Swain's guide, as no human has survived beyond the first kill in previous Presidians, but eventually becomes valuable to Swain, given his knowledge of the game.
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. Swain kills the Karanadon in an explosion during his escape from the Library.
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, 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.
Paul Hawkins A police officer who joins forces with Swain during their time in the contest. He is later killed by Bellos and his Hoodaya.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

Reilly has filmed the events of the first fifteen minutes of the novel, intending to show the footage to get funding to make a movie of the novel. He hopes to direct the adaptation himself.[1]