While conducting exploration in the frozen Arctic, Texan Lew McCardle, a geologist working for the Houghton Oil company, discovers something remarkable: a body encased in the ice. More remarkable still, the skills of Russian researcher Semyon Petrovitch bring the man miraculously back to life. This strange visitor from the distant past has an amazing story to tell. Translated from his native Latin by Nordic nun Olava, Lucius Aurelius Eugenianus reveals that in the era of Domitian he was a champion in the Roman Colosseum, a gladiator known far and wide as the greatest of all time. An ingenious amalgam of science fiction, fantasy, and history, Richard Ben Sapir's The Far Arena is a breathtaking work of literary invention, at once thrilling, poignant, and thought provoking.
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worried book would feel "dated" but it didn't. once in the story could not put it down. the narrator at first I wondered about but he is a skillful reader and I didn't need to worry. loved the book when it came out and loved the audible now. highly recommend.
This great book is finally available again in print as well as on Kindle and as an Audiobook from Audible.com. Thirty-six years after I first read it, you can buy it again. Now that I’ve listened to it for the first time (as opposed to reading it), it is not only as good as I remember. It is better.
The Far Arena is classified as science fiction, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, which is a catch-all term for all the books that can’t be otherwise categorized. Time travel? Sort of, although the only “mechanism” is time itself.
The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil not far from the arctic. He is subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of our modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 2000 years earlier.
For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.
“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”
“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.
“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds.
That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. This isn’t a quick piece of dialogue in a long book about “other things.” The discussion of “what is slavery” is an underlying theme throughout the book along with “the corruption of giant corporations” which apparently has not noticeably changed between the days of the Roman Empire and today.
Although I had read the book several times, I had never listened to it. I wasn’t intending to listen to the whole thing. I just wanted a little taste. I have a giant heap of books I have promised to read and I thought “I’ll give a little listen” and come back to finish it when I have more time.
I had forgotten how good the book really is. It has been a long time since I picked up a book and was sucked in from the first paragraph until the very end … and was still wishing there would be more. It gave me a sharp pang, realizing how few really great books I read these days. How many are touted as great, but reading them, they are no better than ordinary and often far less.
Not only was Richard Ben Sapir a brilliant writer, but Peter Noble is a terrific narrator. He handles dialects with ease and give the book the intensity it deserves. Never over the top, never too dramatic, he is as perfect as a narrator could be. And considering how much I love the book, I’m surprised to find myself saying it.
I had a lot of trouble not restarting the book from the beginning and giving it a round 2, just in case I missed a paragraph somewhere. What is really eerie is how the main character, drawn into modern times following 2000 years of cryogenic sleep, understands this world better than the people he meets in 20th century Europe.
The man from Rome understands corruption. He understands slavery, whatever we choose to call it. He knows that the rich and powerful will never support the poor and will always do what is to their benefit.
It is a level of cynicism which sharply focuses the lens of 2017.