Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

Book Details
The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir
1979, Dell Publishing
ISBN: 0440126711

The Far Arena is a novel by Richard Sapir, writing as Richard Ben Sapir. It chronicles the adventures of Eugeni, a Roman gladiator from Domitian's period, who, due to an unlikely series of events, is frozen in ice for 19 centuries before being found by the Houghton Oil Company on a prospecting mission in the north Atlantic. 

Lew McCardle is a geologist working for Houghton. While running a test drill, the machine accidentally uncovers a frozen body. Lew is given charge. He immediately calls his friend Semyon Petrovitch, a Soviet scientist. Petrovitch, who specializes in cryonics takes the body to be revived, explaining that it's easier to treat such a case as alive until it's proven life cannot be restored. The blood is pumped from it & various treatments are administered until, amazingly, it comes back to life. It spends the next 15 days in a deep sleep, muttering to itself. The mutterings are recorded, but no-one can figure out the language. Finally, Lew McCardle, who has eight years of Latin, sends for a Catholic nun, who joins him & Petrovitch on their quest to sort out the mysteries of the body.

My uncle gave me a copy of The Far Arena knowing how much I usually enjoy science fiction and stories about ancient Rome. While his intentions were lovely, The Far Arena wasn't as enjoyable as I would have hoped.

The concept was intriguing, but the reanimation of the gladiator was not quite believable. The ancient gladiator is not only revived after many thousands of years, but he's not even damaged in any way. Think Encino Man with more science and less Pauly Shore wackiness.

Beyond being kind of ludicrous, the story itself, especially the parts about ancient Rome that I was looking forward to, were dull. Lots of action, lots of really horrifying events, but without a lot of corresponding emotion. Perhaps this was purposeful, showing a gladiator can't survive if he shows much emotion. Perhaps it was a tool to show how remembering the past always has less emotion than while one is actually living it. There could have been many reasons, but in the end, I just couldn't click with the main character at all.

The Far Arena isn't a bad book exactly, but more an example of something that sounded like it would be wonderful and ending up just not working for me. The writing flowed well and the historical side of the book felt realistic. The science fiction side could have been based more in actual science, but as this book was written in the 1970s, I may be asking too much given my modern view of things.


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