Fredrick Brown’s “Arena” and Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety” are short stories that explore how our humanity affects our response to conflicts against enemies that we perceive as being dangerous and alien. While one story shows how humanity’s strengths will allow us to overcome hardship and ultimately triumph, the other story illustrates how our pitfalls and hubris can lead us to destruction.
In “Arena” humanity is preparing for a monumental space battle against an alien race known as the Outsiders when a mysterious, God-like Entity kidnaps a human named Carson from the edge of the conflict. Carson is deposited naked and unarmed in an enclosed alien environment; his only companions are an Outsider he calls the Roller and a number of small, blue lizards. The unseen Entity explains to Carson telepathically that, because of how evenly matched humanity and the Outsiders are, a conflict between the two could only lead to the destruction of one and the “decay” of the other, which the Entity sees as an unsatisfactory result (Brown 56). To that end, the Entity has decided that he will pit one human against one Outsider in a fight to the death, and he will then destroy the losing race, so that at least one of the two species has a chance to reach its potential. Carson and the Roller then proceed to observe and test each other’s attributes and abilities. The harsh environment quickly wears Carson down and when he is close to reaching the end of his rope, an act of mercy shows him the way through the barrier that separates him from the Roller. Carson manages to kill the Roller and secure his race’s survival.
While “Arena” shows a war that is halted before it can truly start, Dick’s “Second Variety” begins in a landscape already laid barren by a war between humans. To turn the tide of war and defeat the Russians, the UN created swarms of self-perpetuating, killer robots called claws. In response to a Russian request for a meeting regarding “matters of grave urgency,” the UN sends Major Hendricks out to the Russian lines (Dick 299). On the way, he comes across a strange, stoic young boy named David. The child accompanies Hendricks to the Russian lines, but upon reaching them, David is shot on sight. When Hendricks protests, he is told to look at David’s corpse and is startled to see gears instead of guts. The three remaining Russians explain that the claws have made themselves look human so as to better infiltrate human bases. The Russians have deduced that there are only three varieties of human claw: two known and one unknown “Second Variety” (Dick 309).
In an attempt to warn the UN and its moon base of the danger, the group makes a run for the UN line only to discover that it has already been overrun. One of the Russians is revealed to be a claw and Tasso, a woman from the Russian line, destroys him with a specially-designed, claw-killing bomb. Hendricks and Tasso then make for a rocket to the moon base, but discover that there is only room for...