Gladiator-at-Law followed C. M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohls earlier collaboration on the widely acclaimed The Space Merchants (1953). There is a common theme within the two novels: A society made dystopic by corporate greed can be bettered to at least some extent by the efforts of one or a few in that society. Also common to the two works is the view that a population, without understanding and diligence, can become pawns manipulated at the whim of solipsistic capitalism. Gladiator-at-Law succeeds on one level, then, as a cautionary tale.
This novel typifies Kornbluth and Pohls joint work. Their collaborations often are identified as harbingers of a generation of science-fiction novels in which the future is dominated by one particular power group. These two authors, however, succeed perhaps better than others in painting such tales with delicious irony and tongue-in-cheek “treatments,” so that readers are never dragged to depressive depths.
Gladiator-at-Law also hints at Pohls later inclination to write about ordinary people, as opposed to heroic types. Charles Mundin—the name may have been intended to evoke “mundane”—and Norvie Bligh retain much of their Joe Anybody status throughout the novel. To a certain extent, the same is true of Pohls protagonist in the Hugo Award-winning Gateway (1977), about whom, Pohl says, readers sometimes complain because they think Robinette Broadhead is too much Caspar Milquetoast and not enough Captain Marvel. Considering the statement Kornbluth and Pohl make in Gladiator-at-Law, ordinary people must be the focus in order to emphasize the authors point.
Gladiator-at-Law also touches on the theme of life extension, which Pohl has explored in his Heechee novels, begun with Gateway, as well as in other work. Green and Charlesworth, hoary human shells, somehow have been kept alive far beyond the normal life span because they have the money to pay for medical treatments. Kornbluth and Pohl do not dwell on the implications, but Pohl develops the theme in his later work.
Kornbluths output was cut short tragically by an early death in 1958. Otherwise, there may have been more collaborations with Pohl, who says their joint writing process involved Kornbluth visiting Pohls home to write.