RICHARD BEN SAPIR – The Far Arena. Seaview Books, hardcover, 1978. Dell, paperback, 1979.

   The body was quiet as an unborn thought in a dark universe, stopped on the bare side of life, stilled on its way to death by the cold.

   Lucius Aurelius Eugenianus, Roman gladiator and soldier has just been found in a state of suspended animation in the ice beneath the Queen Victoria Sea by a North Sea Oil drill bit that tears a bit of flesh from his thigh. The Texas born geologist who found the body carries it to Dr. Semyon Petrovitch an expert in cyronics in Oslo as a curiosity, but when Petrovich finds the body still has workable veins and frozen before death everything he has worked on for years seems to be coming to fruition.

   By a miracle when the body is thawed and normal temperature restored, it appears to live, though a tense several days are spent desperately trying to save the frozen specimen. It is at this point in the preceding we are introduced to our narrator, Eugenianus, who is about to wake up into a world beyond his comprehension and the worst case of jet lag in the history of the planet.

   Why am I not dead? Where is my death? I know death. It is a proud and free thing in a quiet place.

   Alternating at first with the third person narration of the attempt to bring this time traveler to life and the first person narration gradually introducing us to Eugenianus and his story, the thing that makes this novel work is just how compelling and interesting a character he is, a man who was both in and out of time in his own world even before reaching ours.

   The man dubbed John Carter by the doctors trying to keep him a secret until he can be awakened, Petrovitch hires a nun named Sister Olav who is a linguist to interpret his ravings, but all Eugenianus sees when he does awaken is a giant hovering over him, since he is of average size of his time and almost everyone in the modern world seems a giant to him, certainly the statuesque nun.

   The first half of the book when the doctors are struggling to save him and we are seeing his life unfold in his memories is fascinating enough, but the book really picks up when Eugenianus awakens and finds himself in a world as alien as another planet among people who have nothing in common with him. It’s here where Sapir manages the best of his satirical jabs at the pretenses and hypocrisy of the modern world as this simple creature from the past seeks some kind of peace in a world he neither wants nor understands.

   A nice balance is kept up between the techno-scientific side of the story (which for reasons Sapir likely didn’t take into account is uncomfortably close to the resurrection of Captain America in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics) and the personal stories of the main characters, Eugenianus, the geologist, Petrovitch, and Sister Olav.

   Sapir, who co-created Remo Williams, the Destroyer (co-writing at least sixty of the series), with Warren Murphy, left the series as Murphy did and turned to writing on his own using the name recognition from the critically praised men’s action series as a stepping stone. His first big title, The Quest, about a modern secret war over the Holy Grail, got great reviews and had big sales and was followed up by The Body (filmed with Antonio Banderas) about a shocking archaeological discovery, a spy novel, and this one, Far Arena.

   I’m not sure if this is his last book, but it is one of his last and had hardcover, book club, and paperback editions. While structured as a thriller, Far Arena is often a sharp satirical jab at modern society and a historical novel with a unique perspective as a modern thriller.

   The characters are well drawn, and the relationship that develops between Eugenianus and Sister Olav believably drawn. Eugenianus’s shock when he returns to Rome is one of the novel’s highlights, possibly the most devastating lesson in “you can’t go home again” you will encounter in a thriller.

   Far Arena is different, a variation on the Berkeley Square theme or Edwin Lester Arnold’s Phra the Phoenician (the John Carter reference has to do with the Edgar Rice Burrough’s character’s penchant for traveling across time and space in ethereal form) certainly, but an entertaining and even thoughtful read, just the sort of thing for a cool fall night on the run up to Halloween.