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ARENA Paperback – May 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
There are disappointingly few good SF novels for the Christian market, and Hancock's intense debut is an excellent though edgy contribution to the genre. Callie Hayes is a frustrated artist with a colorless life; she earns minimum wage raising rats for laboratory use. When she volunteers for a seemingly harmless psychology experiment, she's unexpectedly thrown into a frightening and alien world. The narrative is a loose allegory of the Christian life: provided with a "field manual" (the Bible), Callie must navigate the "Arena" to return home. She hooks up with Pierce Andrews, and together with a ragtag group, they battle the mutant "Trogs," who delight in raping, torturing and devouring their victims. However, Elhanu (Christ) soon appears in disguise to help. Some CBA readers may be disturbed by the novel's many rapes and attempted rapes, as well as its occasional stomach-turning descriptions (e.g., human bones with the marrow sucked out). Hancock's characters struggle believably with sexual feelings and passion, something that's often handled poorly or ignored in CBA fiction. Characters are multidimensional, although one borders on caricature (SF 's typical buxom, long-legged, weapon-brandishing blonde), and the sporadic Scripture verses seem out of place. To her credit, Hancock admirably dashes most of the reader's preconceptions about the plot as the story progresses through a series of twists, turns and well-paced developments. If this book is any indication, the future should be bright for this promising novelist.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Callie Hayes grudgingly agrees to participate in a psychology study as moral support for a friend. However, frightened by the examiners' secrecy and evasiveness (one vanishes before her eyes), she tries to escape but finds herself cast into the Arena, a testing ground for participants of the study. Armed with only a guidebook and minimal supplies, she is soon forced to trust the enigmatic Pierce, a man who claims to have spent the past five years in the Arena. As Callie journeys toward the Gate, supposedly her ticket out, she learns more about the mysterious Benefactor conducting the test and uses her developing faith in him to find the way home. However, this path is laid with false trails, traps, and false messiahs eager to destroy Callie and the friends she makes along the way. Hancock's first novel is an allegorical blend of fantasy and sf depicting the tests a soul faces that strengthen or destroy belief in God. Hints of the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max surface, along with the sense of climbing through the wardrobe into C.S. Lewis's allegorical Narnia. A classic in the making for the modern era, with appeal for fans of Lewis and Kathy Tyers ("Firebird Trilogy"), this is required for all collections.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Callie is living day to day in a quiet life with a dull job, never pushing herself beyond her limited comfort zone. Her family has wealth and tried to get her to attend debutante balls and society parties, but none of that interested her. Callie’s enthusiastic friend, Meg, convinces her to participate in a psychology research experiment for some quick cash. They had no idea how significant the experiment would be and how it would change their lives.
Callie completes the introductory paperwork, changes into the designated clothing and presents herself for testing. The very attractive attendant gives her a back pack which contains a manual and directs her to pay close attention to the briefing and instructions so she can succeed to cross the Arena. Callie has decided she doesn’t want to continue and refuses to attend the briefing. The attendant indicates she has no choice but to go forward and encourages her to attend the briefing. When she continues to refuse, the attendant gives her the merest of instructions, ‘follow the instructions... stay on the white road… avoid the evil creatures… find the gateway out’. Then she finds herself dumped (transported somehow) into a hostile land.
Callie sets out on a white path seeking the gateway to get out. Soon she faces vines that prick her causing welts, mites that bite painfully and other hairy and ugly creatures. Callie moves forward on a pinkish path she thinks is just a dirty continuation of the white path. Just when she thinks she should turn back a ragged, dirty man steps out of the rocks and pulls her away from an attack.
Callie doesn’t want to trust this strange man, Pierce, but she is fearful of the unknown, frightening creatures. She decides that perhaps she will be safer with him until she can get back to the road. Pierce helps battle hairy mutants and foul trogs until they can join up with a small band who has been traveling together. She is dismayed to learn that others, like Pierce, have been in the Arena for years. She intends to read the manual, although others scoff and tell her much of it is illegible, but as she is attempting to stay alive, she allows the manual to be stolen.
From the beginning of the experiment I railed at Callie for failing to attend the briefing and failing to read the manual. Nothing like going into hostile territory totally unprepared and ignoring the instructions that have been provided. And there I began to see the allegory. Men on earth are provided an instruction manual but many choose to ignore it and struggle against one enemy, dangerous setting or deceptive temptation, after another.
I loved the creativity of the story and the clear allegory provided to the parable of the farmer sowing seeds* (Luke 8:5-15) and to the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). And the story goes beyond that to portray a clear picture of the battle of good versus evil, providing insights on self-reliance, faith, taking a rough road or the easier way, falling to or facing down temptations, forgiving oneself and others,overcoming doubt and confusion, unrepentance and surrender, loss and victory. As a Christian this portrayal is apparent. For a non Christian I think they could enjoy the excitement and story even if they didn't get the underlying message.
Three of us in my ladies’ book club read this and we were all impressed. I encouraged one of the ladies who doesn’t usually read science fiction, and she was very glad I got her to read this. There is plenty of action and characters are well developed to show their growth and struggles. The writing is clean and direct and especially impressive for a debut novel. I didn’t find this to read that quickly, most likely because I wanted to enjoy the allegory as it unfolded. I recommend this even if you don’t normally read sci fi or Christian literature. Do not let the genre or the Christian element deter you from trying this engaging read.
The arena is full of mysteries. A white path is supposed to lead straight to the exit, but it branches too often to be helpful. A guidebook offers information about navigating the arena, but it's information seems incorrect, and the pages are made of a material that attracts pests. Safe houses scattered throughout the arena allow for much needed protection and rest, but don't lead to an exit. Everyone has a theory about how to get out of the arena, but no one seems ever to manage it.
It's fascinating to watch Callie navigate these problems and solve the arena's cryptic clues. Danger and suspense come from the terrible creatures who hunt anyone who strays from the true path of the arena, and from Callie's own team members, who sometimes make dangerous decisions that put Callie in danger.
This book is actually published by a Christian publisher and is meant to have allegorical undertones, but it's easy to enjoy is simply as a mysterious and suspenseful science fiction story. I've given it to friends who like The Hunger Games, and it's one of my favorite books to re-read.
Once our heroine lands in the Arena things get interesting and very confusing for her. Much like life for us. We have choices to make, people we place trust in, circumstances not of our choosing and those we get ourselves into, but do we chose wisely or do we err. This story has a good bit of allegory in it, which I happen to like. Our heroine and others she encounters in the Arena are given instructions and even a manual to help guide them safely through... Much like we are given guidance in God's Word. The thing is do we use what we have been given, do we trust or do we let our pride, fear and desire to be in control win out?
I will say that in the Arena, there is danger, there is evil and the battle isn't always a physical one but a mental one as well. While there are some gruesome things that happen there, Hancock does not go into gory details. She gives you enough info to hold the suspense but not too much that you can't sleep at night. I hope that makes sense!
Hancock is very imaginative and wove a good tale. For those who like Sci-Fi or things like the Matrix but done in Christian allegory, this is right up your alley. Interesting & thought provoking!