Author: Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates/Tor Books
ISBN: 10: 0-7653-1486-X
ISBN: 13: 978-0-7653-1486-4
The Gladiator is the fifth in Turtledove’s Crosstime Traffic series of Young Adult alternate history s-f novels. The premise is that about a hundred years from now, a machine is invented that makes travel possible into alternate worlds where history developed differently. This is used for secret commerce, buying food and natural resources for an overpopulated and resource-depleted “homeworld” from less advanced worlds, but not letting them know about the more advanced world. Each novel features two teens who are either part of the Crosstime teams or are natives who learn the secret.
Gunpowder Empire (2003) features a world where the Roman Empire never fell, but technology never developed above that of 600 A.D. A brother and sister from the homeworld are trapped in a primitive, disease-ridden culture when a barbarian Lithuanian empire besieges the Roman border town where they are staying. Curious Notions (2004) is set in a world where Germany won World War I. When a secret shop in San Francisco selling advanced electronic goods is raided by German occupation police, young Crosstimer Paul goes to a Chinese-American girl for help, but this brings them both to the attention of Chinese crime gangs. In High Places (2005) takes place where the medieval Black Death almost completely depopulated Europe. Its 21st century world is mostly Muslim and still heavily practices slavery. In The Disunited States of America (2006), there was no Constitution and the United States soon fell apart under the weak Articles of Confederation. Becky Royer, from an independent California visiting with her grandmother in Virginia, is trapped there when Virginia and Ohio go to war. Each novel can be read independently.
The Gladiator (2007) is a role-playing gaming shop in a Milan where the Soviet Union won the Cold War of the late 20th century. In the late 21st century the whole world is like the former Eastern Bloc nations; regimented by Socialist bureaucracies and repressed by an all-powerful state police. Teens Annarita Crosetti and Gianfranco Mazzilli have grown up together since their families share the same kitchen and bathroom in a crowded apartment building in an Italian People’s Republic short of housing and consumer goods. Gianfranco is a failing high school student, until he discovers The Gladiator and becomes obsessed with its unique complex games which force him to learn pre-Socialist history and develop his mathematical skills. When the Security Police close the shop for subversion because its games also glorify capitalism, Gianfranco persuades Annarita and her parents to help hide his friend Eduardo of The Gladiator’s staff from the Police. The two teens gradually learn Eduardo’s secret as he tries to find another secret Crosstime shop in Italy that can help him get home. Turtledove seems to have changed his rules here; the Crosstimers are operating several gaming shops just to undermine the oppressive Socialist society, not for any commercial gains. In any case, The Gladiator is a brisk, thought-provoking s-f novel for adolescents.