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  • Writer's pictureBen Schafer

Stuff I Like: Harry Turtledove's "The Gladiator"

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I like games. Board games, video games, role-playing games; I love them all. There are few ways to truly immerse yourself in another world than to take on the role of heroic fighter pilot, dashing knight, or scheming pirate. I'm no stranger to game stores. So when I picked up a copy of Harry Turtledove's The Gladiator, I was immediately intrigued. For those who don't recognize the name, Harry Turtledove is a master of alternate history. His books cover topics like "What if Japan invaded Hawaii while the US was off-balance following Pearl Harbor?" or "What if the Confederacy won the Civil War?" The Gladiator is part of his Crosstime Series in which travel between alternate timelines is not only possible, but profitable.

The Gladiator is set in an alternate timeline where the USSR prevailed in the Cold War and the entire world has gone Communist. Set in Milan, it follows teenagers Gianfranco and Annarita as they try to live successful lives in the dismal grey "Workers' Paradise." Annarita is a smart girl and leading member of her Young Socialists League. Gianfranco doesn't care about anything, really. Anything, that is, except for playing board games at a local shop called "The Gladiator." His favorite game places him in the role of a nineteenth-century railroad tycoon trying to create a profitable empire. He learns all about market forces and how competition makes better services and products for everyone. Everyone stresses that these concepts only exist in the game, but Gianfranco begins to question the wisdom of the Communist Party and wonders how he would be able to use the skills he acquired in the game to succeed in real life. Annarita, meanwhile, is concerned that the shop is a hotbed for counterrevolutionary thinking and is worried that her friend will be caught up in a government crackdown.

When the secret police do come to shut the place down for spreading capitalist propaganda, the shop owners seemingly vanish into thin air. Everyone, that is, except for a young man named Eduardo. He is forced to ask Gianfranco and Annarita for help and tells them an astonishing story: he is from an alternate timeline where people are free and capitalism carried the day. He needs help to hide from the secret police and return home. But can the three of them keep his secret and get him back to his original timeline? Or will the iron fist of the Communist Party crush them all in its grip? Find out by picking up this great science fiction book. It's available here for purchase on Amazon.

This is truly a fun book. I read the whole thing in an afternoon, and I just couldn't put it down. It runs a bit to the Young Adult side of things, but nothing seems forced or dumbed-down. There is nothing objectionable from a content perspective, so parents can feel good letting their kids read it. In fact, I encourage it. I found the book's solid defense of capitalism (while acknowledging that no system is perfect) completely refreshing. With so many people now praising Socialism and even overt Communism as solutions to our modern problems, a look at what the world would be like under those systems is eye-opening. The earnest, almost painful yearning for true freedom lies at the heart of this book. It's got just the right blend of optimism and realism to make you feel good about these characters and their journey while maintaining the tension about whether or not they will ultimately succeed.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of "Stuff I Like." If you have a suggestion for something you think I would like, be sure to send me an e-mail at Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up for the mailing list so you can get my blog posts sent directly to your inbox and stay caught up on all the exciting developments on I'll be back next Thursday with a new "Stuff I Like."

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