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Contest was Matthew Reilly's first book and was written during the first year of his law degree. It was originally self-published, but was picked up by Pan Macmillan following the success of Reilly's second book Ice Station, which they had already published. Contest is of a different style to Reilly's other novels, Ice Station, Area 7 and Temple, and the present edition is much different to the self-published version.

Contest throws an unprepared Doctor Stephen Swain and his daughter Holly into the seventh Presidian – an interplanetary Olympics held every thousand years where seven contestants enter and only one leaves alive, this time located in the New York State Library. Swain, with his daughter and egg-like alien guide Selexin, must outwit the six other alien competitors, all picked from similar contests on their own planets for their ruthlessness, to save the lives of all three. The situation is further complicated when US Government agents begin to investigate the site.

Action and twists are found constantly throughout the story right until the last page.