I'm looking to identify a sci-fi novel I read as a teenager I scarcely remember now:

  • Dystopian setting.
  • Not being addicted to any substance is illegal. Smart people choose to get away with being addicted to tobacco, alcohol etc. and stay away from worse substances.
  • Protagonist has to battle a monster (or a machine, or maybe a villain?) in an arena at some point.

I read this in the early 2000s but I have no clue when it might have been written.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! Do you remember the cover of the book at all? Was it paperback or hardcover? Approximately how many pages was it?
    – DavidW
    Sep 1, 2022 at 15:00
  • I really don't remember any of these details ... most likely it was paperback and maybe 100-200 pages? Sep 1, 2022 at 15:01
  • 1
    reminds me of the Sliders episode Just Say Yes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Sliders_episodes#ep55
    – Pete
    Sep 1, 2022 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


The bit about addiction being mandatory makes me think of Sheckley's The Status Civilization (1960).

The protagonist is Will Barrent, who was convicted of a crime on Earth, mindwiped, and shipped to Omega as a prisoner.

One night there was a heavy knocking at his door. Half asleep, Barrent answered it. Four uniformed men pushed their way inside and told him he was under arrest.

"What for?" Barrent asked.

"Non-drug addiction," one of the men told him. "You have three minutes to dress."

"What's the penalty?"

"You'll find out in court," the man said. He winked at the other guards and added, "But the only way to cure a nonaddict is to kill him. Eh?"

And the judge explains:

"For the present," the judge said, "your religious impiety can be waived, since it is a first offense. But non-drug addiction is a major crime against the state of Omega. The uninterrupted use of drugs is an enforced privilege of every citizen. It is well known that privileges must be exercised, otherwise they will be lost. To lose our privileges would be to lose the very cornerstone of our liberty. Therefore to reject or otherwise fail to perform a privilege is tantamount to high treason."

Barrent survives the Ordeal (a murder machine) that is the punishment for his non-addiction, but continues to be a non-conformist and is selected for the Hunt, where troublemakers are marked as prey for citizens to kill. He survives the Hunt, for which is prize is to be entered in the Games, which are gladiatorial in nature and take place in the Arena.

Barrent lived through the hand-to-hand duels in which a quarter of the prisoners were killed. After that, men armed with swords were matched against the deadlier Omegan fauna. The beasts they fought included the hintolyte and the hintosced—big-jawed, heavily armored monsters whose natural habitat was the desert region far to the south of Tetrahyde. Fifteen men later, these beasts were dead. Barrent was matched with a Saunus, a flying black reptile from the western mountains. [...]

He moved back to the reserve pen and watched other men struggle against the trichomotreds, incredibly fast little creatures the size of rats, with the dispositions of rabid wolverines. It took five teams of prisoners. After a brief interlude of hand-to-hand duelling, the Arena was cleared again.

Now the hard-shelled criatin amphibians lumbered in. Although sluggish in disposition, the criatins were completely protected beneath several inches of shell. Their narrow whiplash tails, which also served them as antennae, were invariably fatal to any man who approached them. Barrent had to fight one of these after it had dispatched four of his fellow prisoners.

But Barrent survives both this and the carrion tree that consumes everything else in the Arena; his final reward for surviving the Games is to be consumed by the Black One, but it is not what it seems. He ends up recruited by a different group of criminals to make an exploratory effort to return to Earth.

  • 1
    This must be it! I'll have to give it another read to be sure though :) Sep 1, 2022 at 15:42
  • I wonder how that judge would respond to a statement that being able to choose whether or not to use drugs is a privilege, and that therefore denying Barrent that privilege is treason.
    – Douglas
    Sep 2, 2022 at 21:32
  • @Douglas Why not take it further? Not having to fight to the death is a privilege. Being a judge is a privilege…
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 10, 2022 at 19:45

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