Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thursday Preview: Arena

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Okay, I've mentioned it often enough; it's about time I posted a preview of Fredric Brown's "Arena."

As you may know by now, and certainly will after you read this, all the fiction in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2, old and new, is from writers who plied their trade both in print and in the televised incarnations of Star Trek.

Well, pretty much. Fredric Brown never wrote a script for Star Trek, but he sort of became a Trek writer at one remove. This story, originally published in 1944, was the only one to be adapted into an episode. And that happened inadvertently. It was only after routine clearance by Desilu's research department that scriptwriter/producer Gene L. Coon realized he'd unconsciously used the plot of Brown's story. Star Trek quickly purchased the appropriate rights... making sure not to tell Brown that the script had already been written.

Fredric Brown (1906-72) was not a prolific science fiction writer. NESFA reprinted all of his short fiction in one volume in 2001 and his three novels in another volume in 2002. However, he is widely considered a master of the short story (2,000 to 7,500 words), and especially the short-short. His short story "Knock" begins with a two-sentence short-short of its own.

Fortunately for his income, he didn't need to live on his science fiction output, producing many mystery novels. Mickey Spillane called Brown "my favorite writer of all time." Still, Brown claimed he wrote mysteries for the money, but science fiction for fun.

The Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Arena" one of the twenty best science fiction stories written before 1965. The story appears in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2 with a dramatic illustration by Kevin Farrell, showing a couple of ways in which Brown's original differs from the Star Trek episode it inspired. For one, we luckily did not have to see Captain Kirk fight in the nude.

Why did I wait this long to post a Thursday Preview of "Arena"? I really don't know, but it gives me another chance to reach for holiday relevance. On New Year's Eve, we watch the ball drop. In "Arena," we read about someone trying to keep a ball from getting the drop on him. (Suddenly I feel like the Yakov Smirnoff of science fiction.)

Sources: (to learn how to spell "Yakov Smirnoff")

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