Harry Turtledove. Set in the late 21st century, the premise revolves around a company called Crosstime Traffic, which has developed a technology that allows people to travel to different earth-like worlds that have alternate histories.
In The Gladiator, we are introduced to a place in which the Soviet Union has won the cold war, and communism has become the dominant global ideology. The title of the book refers to a game shop of the same name, in which capitalist-inspired board games from the "real" earth are sold. The aim of the shop is to subtly subvert the totalitarian control of the Marxist governments that rule the different countries in this alternate world.
Set in Milan, Italy, the story revolves around two teenagers called Gianfranco and Annarita whose family share the same apartment. Gianfranco is a regular at The Gladiator shop where he regularly plays a board game called Rails across Europe. However, when the authorities become suspicious of the game shop, they decided to shut it down, and in the process radicalize the two teenagers. Their desire for freedom becomes especially acute when they discover that there is another world in which capitalism has triumphed and in which people are free.
This book was a fun read. While the politics are pretty simplistic – the struggle between capitalism and communism is presented in an almost childlike fashion – the story is enjoyable. While this novel is no masterpiece, and the writing can be pretty wooden at times, it is entertaining. If you are looking for a serious discussion on political theory, then this book is not for you. However, if you want to be entertained with a light and quick read on a grey weekend afternoon, then this story may be what you are looking for.
3 out of 5 stars