The first trend to jump out at us is an alarming one: the arena only ended the world 3 times this year.
And that’s it.
What is happening? What does this mean?
Have we all decided that this world is maybe worth keeping around?
Oh, sure, you could argue that the chemical cocktail hinted at in “Dairy of a Madman” will eventually run rampant. You could say that maybe the bloodthirsty plant in “Plant Life” will grow until it’s unstoppable. Maybe the aliens in nonagon spaceships will succeed in their takeover attempt in “Abysmal Midnight Blue.” Maybe the problems on Mars will never stop getting worse in “Patient #5.”
But those aren’t world-ending stories. Dag nabbit, when the arena destroyed the world in 2014 we left no doubt. The agent of demise was going full tilt, looming very large, and about to hit a major town.
Hell we met death incarnate 3 times in this year alone. Granted, he was a prompt in his very own battle…but still.
Maybe we all just became a bit more intimate as a group. No need for faceless worlds to die when you can get up close and really stick it to an individual, right? After all we had 31 instances where protagonists died at the antagonist’s hands or the other way around. Characters died onscreen this year. Named characters. In half of the stories. In terrible ways. People were cannibalized three times. One guy ate himself.
On the other hand we also had joy. True joy. We were schooled in creativity by a child. We had the fear of death diminished not once, but twice through a life well lived. We had fables and fairy tales, we had good conquering evil and childhood revisited in the most perfect of ways.
Are we beginning to view the world through a wider lens? Are our experiences becomming richer and more varied as we progress?
Or maybe these are all illusions, maybe every extreme is only needed because the artist demands it. Maybe J.R.D. Skinner is right, and all creative types are just chattering madmen in a world gone sane.
Or maybe the arena doesn’t need to overthink this. Maybe we just need to update the records, clean up the sands, and look back happily on an amazing year.
At least we finally got our bear pit.
Before we go, though, we have some thank you’s and some (oddly paired) awards.
The Arena “Is This Where I Bet All of My Chips?” Award goes to Albert Berg: Genres, restrictions, convention, these don’t mean a lot when Albert steps into the arena. He seems to have a love of going over all the different ways that he could tackle a prompt, then throwing them all out and betting the farm on the craziest idea possible. This year he’s given us a Choose Your Own Adventure, a reimagined Greek myth (where he wanted half of the story to be in a clear font mind you), a fable, a coming of age story, a potboiler, and the time travel insanity of “Iteration.” Albert has a way of surprising the arena, over and over again. And just when you think you’ve got your feet under you, just when you think you understand what the trick is this time around, he somehow traps you, the reader, in a story forever. With never a dull moment, Albert is the arena’s risk-taker.
The Arena Explorer Award goes to Danny Brophy: If Albert tackles whatever he can in the structure of writing, Danny represents the inverse, writing about anything and everything topic-wise with a strange confidence. We still remember his snowman pondering what it felt like to be alive, and we wonder at how someone who enjoyed eating their own flesh became sympathetic to us. We may not always understand where Danny has led us, and the older authors of the arena maybe wish he would give his drafts a few more revisions, but then what the hell do we know? We never brought an artist who uses corpses as canvas, or a surrealist exploration of a pirate’s final moments onto arena sands. With childhood bonds between siblings and fratricide on the table, Danny Brophy is the arena’s prodding curiosity.
The Arena Pessimist Award goes to Joseph Devon: It seems odd to be placing this award here, but looking over the past year it becomes obvious that this is where it belongs. Joseph gave us no clear wins in any of his stories. 3 times around the protagonist died, quite obviously. On camera. Once even by way of camera. Yet death is almost preferable to the hopeless lurch some of his other characters found themselves in. In Joseph’s worlds, ties are counted as losses and stalemates are ground out through sacrifice and pain. Even worthwhile battles, like for scientific advancement, get fought for so long that any value is lost. And even in a tropical island paradise humanity is ground into sand. At best, at best mind you, you are left to force some meaning into choosing who dies during a bombing in a world ravaged by war. At worst you watch a carnivorous plant eat your ex-girlfriend knowing full well that you’re next. In a year full of risk, daring to hope was the scariest thing of all, and with an unrelenting line of characters falling short, Joseph Devon is the arena’s vigilant pessimist.
The Arena Optimist Award goes to Tony Southcotte: In contrast to Joseph’s record, over the course of 9 stories Tony allowed evil to stand only once, and then that was in a tiny kicker at the end of “Howling in the Deep” after our heroes had escaped. He delved into the worst sorts of places, into mines filled with slaves and the lair of a serial killer. And every time, no matter if the enemy was cancer, a cat, or a mother-in-law, the bad guy was cast down; the flesh eating cockroaches were put back in their cage. Even in a world that seemed covered in blood as with “Broken Chains,” in a land where we see nothing but death and carnage, we are still left with a hero who at least tries to retain hold of his humanity. With knights riding to the rescue on two separate occasions, and the number 1 spot in the Bear Pit (at the time of this writing), Tony is the arena’s reluctant optimist.
It has been an amazing year. We want to thank all of our tournament participants. Agreeing to write for three months straight for the arena is something we appreciate beyond measure. Hannah Newell, Lu Whitley, David Webb, and our champion Donald Uitvlugt, thank you.
We couldn’t do this all without our judges. Thomas Mays, Jon Jones, Kevin Veldman, Caleb Newell, D.M. Slate, thank you! And worthy of singling out, weighing in on just about every story this year, we want to give a special thanks to Rich Alix.