A Genre ThrowbackSpace Opera novel by Ryk E. Spoor.The Sandrisson Drive promises to give humanity Faster-Than-Light Travel of the distances-are-shorter-in-hyperspace variety. But when the Holy Grail, the first manned FTL ship, transitions into Kanzaki-Locke space, it finds itself not in a featureless void, but contained within an enormous sphere encompassing the volume equivalent to the solar system. Outside the sphere is the Arena, where thousands of alien races interact and compete according to the rules laid down by the Precursors who built it. And if Captain Ariane Austin and her crew are ever to get the Drive running again and get home, they'll have to face the wonders and dangers of the Arena and stake out a place for humanity in a universe stranger than they ever imagined.The sequel, Spheres of Influence has now been published, in November 2013. Please hide Spoilers relating to that book.
Tropes in the Grand Central Arena series:
Absolute Xenophobe: The Molothos. The Arena system forces them to interact non-destructively with other sentients, and they are not happy about it.
Absurdly High-Stakes Game: This is the core and essence of life in the Arena; if the name "The Arena" didn't clue you in, the fact that the "Challenges" can cost you entire SOLAR SYSTEMS should.
Artificial Gravity: Check. Double check. Lift off a Sphere and you still haven't escaped it.
Asteroid Thicket: Justified; they aren't actually asteroids, but it's still a space obstacle course (with some actual asteroids as part of it, or at least Really Big Rocks).
Big Dumb Object: They don't get much bigger than the Arena. A scale model of the entire universe is just the start of it.
Bio-Augmentation: “Biomods”, anywhere from cosmetic changes to military enhancements.
Blood Magic: An element in the Faith's initiation. And the Shadeweavers'.
Brain/Computer Interface: Many people on Earth have direct interfaces with their AI-equipped personal organizers/communication devices, to the point where Ariane is considered a bit odd because she doesn't use the direct interface unless she has to. This does mean that she's the least affected of the crew when all their AIs suddenly stop working.
Cool Gate: In person-sized and starship-sized forms.
Crazy-Prepared: The designers of the Hyperion Project, in drawing inspiration from fictional sources, went so far as to invent solutions for fictional problems that didn't exist in real life. This saves Ariane and her crew when it turns out that one such problem really does exist in the Arena.
Enforced Technology Levels: Certain technologies just don't work in the Arena — AI; nuclear reactors; nanotech beyond certain limits. This is assumed to be due to The Arena's deliberate intervention; it doesn't want you having those things to play with, so you don't.
And on top of that, Word of God says that humans have a special ability that they've never noticed because they've only been competing against each other.
I Know Mortal Kombat: Most of the humans with regard to hand weapons. Of course, in the Solar System of GCA, the "simulators" are just as good as the real world (or can be: some people prefer to play with the realism dialed down).
No Transhumanism Allowed: Again, Arena physics. No AIs, no uploaded intellects, and apparently even body modification past some as-yet-unspecified point will fail.
No Warping Zone: Sandrisson Drives, even when inactive, interfere with each other, which wouldn't be an example of No Warping Zone except that drives jump from the volume of a solar system to the artificial "Spheres" which are much smaller. A smallish number of ships occupying a Sphere can entirely prevent jumping from anywhere in the solar system.
Pardon My Klingon: Simon swears in Japanese. There are also a couple of instances of swearing being described instead of quoted, including that old standby, an invitation to perform an anatomically impossible act (which gets interesting when alien anatomy is involved).
Planet of Hats: Most of the groups that matter to the politics and the plot are those which are organized or naturally inclined to wear one hat. Strictly speaking, though, they're mostly multi-species organisations who share a common outlook because that's the basis of the organisation; only two species are pretty much uniform — the Blessed To Serve, who are controlled by super-AI overlords, and the Molothos, who hate everyone uniformly.
The Hyperion Project took characters from fiction and raised people in simulations to make them into those characters, with excellent results apart from the ethical issues, the Mary Sue, and it all falling apart at the end.
Also what one of the characters assumes when they initially discover where they are and the impossibilities (such as artificial gravity) they see. Marc, having been been raised in such as environment responds rather negatively to the idea.
Speaks Fluent Animal: In Spheres of Influence, Son Wu Kung shows the ability to speak with just about any animal in the Nexus and environs.
Subspace or Hyperspace: They thought they'd invented your standard jump-into-hyperspace-to-shorten-distance drive. Then they found someone else got there — an entire universe of “there” — first.
Symbiotic Possession: In Spheres of Influnce, Oasis Abrams is revealed to carry two minds. In her backstory, the body of one of the minds was dying, and the mind of Oasis Abrams was transferred into the brain of a Hyperion. By the time we meet her/them, their minds have sort of fused, creating a new amalgam personality.