The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir
A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I had first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.
A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.
I wanted to let you know this great book is finally available on Kindle and as an Audiobook from Audible.com. It’s about time!
The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.
The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.
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. Who would argue the point? Not me.
That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.
This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from most other books I’ve read. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the past to the modern world. And it’s not pretty.
Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books used to be challenging, but this one is now available both as Kindle and \from Audible.com — and you can both at a much reduced price if you buy them together from Amazon.
I’m delighted it is finally available and hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to read or listen to this gem!
This story would make a wonderful movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. It’s exceptionally well written, highly literate and well-researched, Convincing. All those things and a great, gripping story too.