For a book mainly featuring a game show and superhumans, Arena Mode by Blake Northcott has a lot to say about life, the universe and everything.
I’ll begin with the book’s premise. 2041. America and most of the world is dirt poor and trying to survive. There is not much money going around and a low standard of living for most people. The 99% has become reality everywhere, with the last 1%, the politicians and the business magnates, basically rule the world. Although it does not explicitly mention this, it would appear that the free market has ruined the world. Power and money is in the hands of a few oligarchs, and everyone else is upset with the status quo.
Consumerism had also become extreme. In the districts where there is money, every inch of space (well, except the roads) are covered with advertisements. People are being fed entertainment all day. They spend their money on useless things and waste the time on trivialities. The entertainment and sports industry has exploded in a bad way. These days, we watch Pacquiao and Mayweather have a boxing match. In Arena Mode, they have full contact sword fights, and in the case of the actual game show in the book, it’s a Hunger Games style fight to the death for ten billion dollars.
The setting of the story is prime time for disaster, especially when one of the competitors is a flashy Russian superhero that wants to reinstate communism. He vowed to win the game and to use the money to set up another great socialist state for all of Europe, gaining many followers. Lenin was influential. He changed the world by creating the first communist state. In Arena Mode, however, Sergei Taktarov is like Lenin 2.0, with the powers of flight, superhuman strength,regeneration, and eyes that can fire lasers. Add that with the power of social media and an entire world disenfranchised by the supposed good in capitalism, he became a god to them, promising a brave new world.
Honour, honour among not only thieves, but business magnates plays a great role in the story as well. Northcott’s characters have much to say about sportsmanship and honour. However, only a few actual believe any of it, while the rest of them bend the rules to the breaking point. One of the rules is to allow opponents to receive medical treatment without being attacks. Fontaine, another superhuman with extreme speed, just goes around killing all the doctors and nurses. There was no rule against that. Fudo, another competitor in a robotic suit, finds one of the superhumans lying on the ground, bleeding to death. Instead of helping her and letting her leave the game, he cuts her in half. This same evil character later tries to kill the protagonist, but after seriously wounding and disarming him, tells him to take a sword so as to “level the playing field”. Northcott’s masterful tale exhibits how sportsmanship, a good belief, can be twisted to become something so evil.
Superhumans aside, Blake Northcott’s tale of the world is a grim reminder to us now what it might become.