Arena: StarTrek & Fredric Brown

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Watching Kirk get bounced and battered by the Gorn in Arena and thinking about Fredric Brown's Arena, which I read in Dave Drake’s Space Galdiators. In the Star Trek episode, Enterprise hotly pursues an alien raider, later identified as Gorn, that destroyed and massacered and Earth colony. Both ships are stopped dead my supernal aliens (Metrons) who object to their disruptive, barbaric, vengeful bloodlust. They remove both captains to a special place for them to battle to the death. The victor's ship and crew are to go on. The victim's ship and crew are to be destroyed. In the same way a human, Bob Carson and a nameless alien "Outsider" are chosen by ineffable aliens to champion, not just their fleets, but their entire civilizations. While the place of combat is similarly prepared, the motive is not one of moral disgust. Both Earth and the alien civilization would be destroyed in the coming fight. This way, one gets to go on.

In the first Star Trek (Kelvin) movie, Capt. Pike refers to Kirk as a "genius". I don't see it here. He seems to be stumbling around looking for a disassembled phaser he can put back together without seeing the raw materials from which to fashion weapons. Throughout the fight, the Gorn makes weapons from materials at hand and pounds the snot out of Kirk hand-to-hand. In the nick of time Kirk puts S + C + KNO3 together and builds a primitive cannon that surprises the Gorn and everyone else.

In the Fredric Brown story, which first appeared in June 1944’s Astounding ,the two contestants are more evenly matched. Bob Carson is a scout-ship pilot in a human fleet awaiting a final showdown with invading aliens, the Outsiders. His opponent is an unnamed Outsider from the invader fleet. Both understand the terms of the Arena. Any weapons and strategems must be made from scratch. They are separated by a barrier. The struggle calls upon them to use the totality of their beings to survive. Though seriously wounded early on, (lucky shot) Carson manages to engage the Outsider on fairly even terms. The Outsider builds a catapult. Carson makes a spear and a knife and fire bombs. The Outsider wounds Carson. Carson burns down the Outsider's catapult. In the end, the Outsider's cruelty and Carson's compassion are the keys to Carson solving his problem and coming to grips with the Outsider.

Kirk's strengths and weaknesses compared to the Gorn's should be more obvious to him. The Gorn is much stronger than Kirk. The Gorn is also much slower than Kirk. Kirk commands a cruiser, for goodness sake. The concept of superior speed and maneuverability should be second nature to him. He throws the biggest rock he can lift at the Gorn. The Gorn throws a rock bigger than Kirk. Kirk should have gathered up a handful of the diamonds behind him and pegged the Gorn from a distance. (smothering the target) He could have fashioned a bolo, or a sling to lengthen his throw. The Gorn reaches out and fashions a club/spear from a tree. Kirk tries to climb his. (I know Kirk knows how to make a spear as well as bow and arrow. Maybe "Friday's Child" came after Arena and he studied up on antiquarian weapons in the meantime.) Despite Kirk's until-he-was-badly-injured speed superiority, the Gorn pursues him. Instead of grappling or running into a snare, Kirk could have run circles around the Gorn pelting him with rocks. At no time should he have attempted close-quarters combat by kicking or wrassling with the Gorn. He comes out the worst for trying it. In the end, his ingenuity finally saves him just as the Metrons are writing his epitaph.

In the Fredric Brown story, Carson wins by drawing his opponent into his grasp. He's almost reached the limits of his endurance and must end the fight or die in the attempt. This strategy, imposed on Carson by necessity, is a trademark of Kirk's. Thrice in the original series Kirk feigns the crippling of Enterprise to draw a superior opponent in for the killing blow. In Arena, Carson's not faking. His situation is truly desperate. (Apparently, William Shatner really got hurt in the filming of this episode. Probably in delivering one of those attacks that would have been fatal to an ordinary human.) If the Gorn were to reach him before he fired, he'd be killed. Of course, Kirk strikes fire to his fuse just as the Gorn hoves into view.

I wonder though about the "advanced quality of mercy" Kirk displays to the Gorn. With the Gorn finally helpless at his feet, Kirk is no longer mad with blood lust and righteous indignation, so he declines to kill the Gorn and asks the Metrons to spare him. Had he not done so, would the Metrons have been so disgusted by the barbarity that they killed both crews?

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