So, let’s say that the universe we live in had a place where all the space-emergent species, from all the scattered worlds in it, belonged to a structure run by an organization that was a cross between the United Nations and Las Vegas. And, Earth’s humans are the newbies. Welcome to the second novel in the Grand Central Arena series. Spheres of Influence, by Ryk E. Spoor, (Amazon link) is a joyous romp in an unusually clever sci-fi fantasy story that you and your kids can enjoy.

Firstly, I strongly recommend that you read the first book in the series, Grand Central Arena because while there is a summary in Spheres of Influence, it’s not quite enough to explain all that goes on, including the description of The Arena and Nexus Arena, where all of the aliens — species from different worlds, including Earth — interact, and work out their problems.

It’s the 24th century and Humankind is at peace with itself. Robots and AI’s do all the heavy lifting. Finally, an interstellar drive is invented and a daring few “jump” outside the solar system, only to be stopped in their tracks, as it were, and they discover The Arena. Each solar system is represented in a sphere at the Arena. When they arrive, they are granted “an embassy” within Nexus Arena, where they can interact with other aliens (species from other solar systems) and do trade, scheme, engage in intrigue and settle grudges. Wars can be fought outside, in the “real universe” but in the Arena, it comes down to “challenges” where a small few participants from each species duel in various ways (and other species can bet on the outcome) and the winner can demand everything from fuel to worlds. This is a simplification that is much expanded and explained in the story. For those of you who have read the first book, I’m not giving any spoilers. Let’s just say that some of the “factions” aren’t happy to have the newbie Humans around, and that some of the Humans on Earth aren’t happy that Captain Ariane Austin was designated the leader of the Human Faction.

Let me try to shorten this review. Ryk E. Spoor has created a wonderfully thought out plot mechanism that is sure to ensure many more novels in this series. Spheres of Influence is an addicting, fun, rated-”G” story that science fiction enthusiasts of all ages can enjoy. But wait; there’s more!

Spheres of Influence introduces what just might be the most enjoyable, likable, scene-stealing character I’ve ever read in a science fiction novel; a genetically engineered hybrid of a human, monkey, cat . . . I’m not exactly sure. But, Sun Wu Kung, the Monkey King, is absolutely a perfectly wonderful creation from author Spoor’s fertile imagination. A lovable warrior! He’s worth the price of admission all by himself and he’s the hero of an epic space battle.

Spheres of Influence is fun, mind provoking, and a terrific read. It’s an easy read, since science doesn’t get much in the way of the narrative. Sci-fi purists might fault me for that, but I like to get carried away by a story and not worry too much about whether the physics equations work out or not. Again, read the first book, and then savor Spheres of Influence. And, as I am, wait for the next installment!