Nanolomo: Galax Arena by Gillian Rubinstein

Another Australian book, this time, what was one of my first forays into science fiction, and also perhaps one of the darker books I encountered. Not dark just because of the theme of its plot – children kidnapped into space to perform high-risk gymnastics so their adrenalin rush would be transmuted to their alien audience – but because of the rather eye-opening social dynamics between the children and teens who had been abducted. You had your three Australian kids – Peter, Joella (the narrator), and Liane – encountering African and Latin American street kids who already know that harsh realities of life, and who aren’t at all sympathetic to our protagonists, who naturally have little understanding of them at first. Throw this into the mix of the gymnastics games (the Galax Arena of the title), where acts are performed without nets, rife with competitiveness, and you have what was an incredibly engrossing story that I read several times growing up.

Being a fairly sheltered child, it was one of the first books I’d encountered characters who were willing to hurt each other if that’s what it took for their own survival, and also, sometimes, taking pleasure in that pain. By the time I’d read it, I’d seen a film adaptation of Lord of the Flies (would only read the book some years later), and it was clear Rubinstein was riffing on some of that, but these children weren’t so much left to their own devices, but also goaded and encouraged to compete by a trainer who remains one of the nastiest characters I can remember reading; Hythe was all charm and tenderness, but also ready for a slap and censure and taunting. The violence of the story as well I remember shocking me too. There was a distinct lack of comfort in the novel – there were moments of it, but it was not a comfortable read overall. And I think at some point in a reader’s life that is inevitable. Galax Arena was definitely that book for me.