The Many Histories of ‘Arena’


Certain tropes in science fiction occur again and again, but few can be said to have a longer and more varied life than the concept that started with Frederick Brown’s short story Arena. Let’s take a look at some of its more memorable milestones.

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Frederic Brown writes the science fiction story ‘Arena’ for the June 1944 edition of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. The story tells of a god-like race pitting a human being against a selected representative of the rival ‘Roller’ race to decide the outcome of a potentially devastating war between the two. It has been voted as one of the Top 20 Science Fiction Stories Written Before 1965.

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Twenty years later, TV anthology series The Outer Limits presented a story that was similar in many respects. In Fun and Games, the god-like Anderans pit a pair of ordinary humans (Nick Adams and Nancy Malone) against two aliens from the Calco Galaxy with their respective race’s survival as the prize. Only this time they’re doing it for kicks rather than the greater good!

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The only ‘official’ adaptation of Frederic Brown’s tale comes 13 years after the publication of the original short story and is the only one to credit him as the writer. A god-like race pits Captain Kirk (William Shatner) against the reptilian Gorn in what would become one of the original series of Star Trek‘s best remembered and most instantly recognisable episodes.

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No parking on the double yellow lines! No drinking in the town centre! No wait, it’s not that Luton. Legend has it that Space: 1999‘s second series producer Freddie Frieberger saw a sign for the Bedfordshire town and so used it as the name of the planet on which Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) and Maya (Catherine Schell) battle a trio of unlikely aliens at the behest of some (god-like) sentient trees.

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1978: BLAKE’S 7 – DUEL

The BBC finally got in on the act 34 years after Frederic Brown’s short story, with freedom fighters Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) and Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette) going up against one-eyed nemesis Travis (Stephen Greif) and a random Mutoid slave. And guess who was behind it all? You guessed it – a race of god-like aliens who never invented the bra (or at least the last two survivors of one).


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