Reviewing Classics - ARENA by Karen Hancock

At present I’m giving myself a crash course on Lost Genre classics. That’s not so easy, because first you have to find them. There are lists, of course, if you know where to look. I found a great pile of information at wherethemapends.com. I had heard of a lot of this stuff before, and read a good amount of it, big names and all, but there are so many new authors who deserve to be right up there with the best of them. After hearing about “Arena” from various sources, I decided I had to check it out. New female author, alternate reality, love story. Right down my alley.

And I found much to delight me. A scenario beginning with a psychological experiment, a peculiar artificial world, well-constructed characters with strengths and weaknesses. Carrie’s journey is filled to bursting with allegorical happenings that may not mean just what they seem at first. Malicious plant life, pitiable mutants and strange technology fill the Arena with unknowns. Yet danger, evil temptations and horrible threats give way again and again to wonderful hope and solidly present love. The intrinsic, undeniable goodness of the mysterious Mr. C underpins much of the latter part and instilled trust in me as I read. It’s an amazing picture of the battle for the mind, ultimate victory for the good guys, and a surprising outcome that’s incredibly satisfying for a scientific mind and a romantic heart, too. I grew to love the characters as the story went on – I suffered with them, cheered them on, watched them grow, and grew perhaps a little myself as I watched. Somehow, they have made my heart bigger. It’s hard to explain.

This book has become one of my personal favourites, and one to recommend to anyone at all, even if they’re not even remotely interested in Biblical speculative fiction (but especially if they are!). It just doesn’t fit the mold of the genre – it’s not just outside the box, it has destroyed the box along with the boxroom, too! But I that’s definitely one of the aims of this branch of literature – breaking the pattern and opening the way to formerly unthinkable places. I applaud Karen for a fantastic first novel, and I will be returning often to immerse myself in its pages. The only thing that saddened me is that there’s no sequel. I guess I’ll be moving on to her other writings next, but I don’t know if anything can ever beat this.

Sorry for ranting on like this, but if you haven’t read this book, it seems to me that you have missed a very significant piece of the Lost Genre tapestry. Consider it compulsory reading, if you will. If my own writing is ever a fraction so good as this, I’ll be very, very happy. :)

Grace Bridges.com (check out the new video on my site today!)
...the future is what you make it...


Daniel I Weaver said...

This is an encouraging post, Grace. I've never heard of the story you mention, but this makes me want to check it out.

God bless,
Daniel I Weaver

Grace Bridges said...

You do that! You won't regret it...
Say, did you get round to Empyrion yet? Or am I just talking to myself :) You said the same thing back then, you see. I appreciate we're all busy. But they say a personal recommendation is the best marketing there is.

kc said...

Dittos, Grace. I loved this book. It was one of the first fantasies I'd ever read (barring LOTR and Narnia).

Karen is a talented writer.

God bless,

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

I read this post, and immediately went to Amazon to order it! Thanks, Grace! You've got me intrigued.