7 Times Science Fiction Made Sports Better

Next week is a big week in the sports world. Sunday is Super Bowl LII, and Friday, February 9th marks the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics, a worldwide contest that’s been going on since ancient times. We have a few fans here on staff, but a lot of us feel that, well, modern day sports are a bit lacking. We prefer the sports we find in the pages of science fiction novels. Here are just a few of our favorites. What’s your favorite science fiction sport?

Head On by John Scalzi

The goal of the game in Head On is to decapitate a select player on the opposing team and throw their head through a goal post. Members of each team attack each other with hammers and swords. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible, much less unethical. But in Hilketa—a violent and fast-paced popular past time—all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Runtime by S. B. Divya

Ever run a marathon? How about an ultra-marathon? Now add cyborgs, and you’ve basically got the Minerva Sierra Challenge in Divya’s novella Runtime. Most runners in the race have corporate sponsorships, top of the line cyborg parts, and great support teams to make it little less dangerous (only a little). Running without those things is practically a death sentence, but there are always those out there willing to give it a try, even if the system is rigged against them. This is one for perpetual underdogs everywhere (I’m looking at you, Cleveland Browns).

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Okay, so we know the competition to gain control of the OASIS in Ready Player One isn’t actually a sport. It’s a game, with puzzles, video games, and trivia contests. But we think it fits on this list anyway, because the consequences can still be deadly—as Wade discovers when goons from Innovative Online Industries start trying to kill him and his friends.
Steel by Richard Matheson

Frankly, we think a lot of sports could be improved by upgrading the technology involved—and we don’t just mean better replay cameras. Why not replace the athletes with robots? We love the robot boxing depicted in Matheson’s story more than we love actual boxing, to be honest—it’s much more fun to picture giant robots slugging it out than men. Less bloody, too.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Growing up, we all knew a few kids who would rather play sports than study. Too bad they weren’t growing up on Kurt Vonnegut’s Mars, where that’s the reality! The only problem: the only sport Martians play is German batball. Imagine baseball, but with no bats, only two bases, and a ball the shape and size of a big, heavy honeydew melon. Sounds fun, right?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The entire premise of Ender’s Game is, well, a game—a video game simulation of a war. Putting that aside though, there is definitely a sport in Ender’s world: the Battle Room. Children at Battle School are organized into armies and go into zero-g combat games against other armies. While we don’t necessarily want to attend Battle School, we definitely want to join Dragon Army someday. Somebody get to work making that a reality, will you?
Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

Some sports and games have a LOT of rules to remember. Others are like Brockian Ultra-Cricket, from Life, the Universe, and Everything. It’s a game where the goal is basically for players to hit each other with whatever’s at hand, then retreat a safe distance and apologize—for points. The lack of rules means games pretty much never end, and often devolve into all-out warfare. Sounds like a great way to work out some frustration!

18 thoughts on “7 Times Science Fiction Made Sports Better

    1. Awesome List, though I’d replace Ready Player One (not an actual sports game) with Scott Sigler’s GFL series. Few authors manage to weave in social issues , humor and world building like Scott.

  1. Nice read, but I think you’re doing the readers a disservice by not including the GFL books by Scott Sigler. The Rookie and several subsequent players deal with a far future in which the Galactic Football League unites alien races through playing this fast-paced, action -packed and sometimes fatal sport against the backdrop of a truly *epic* space opera. The sport in question is an adaptation and evolution of American football, but a truly enjoyable read for everyone, not just sports fans.

      1. Quentin Barnes shall bestow his holy blessings on this commenter. All hail the GFL and Scott Sigler.

  2. Back in the 1950’s, Malcolm Jameson had a series of stories about “Bullard of the Space Patrol”; in “Bullard Reflects”, he introduced Dazzle Dart, in which players wearing small mirrors try to reflect the ~quarterback’s non-continuous ~laser beam into the goals (photocells). SInce it was played in a dome on the moon, it was close to a 3-dimensional game.

  3. My son says the game in John Scalzi’s book was actually played by the Aztecs. At least that’s how they promote some of the stadium ruins they have there.

    1. It’s true there are some similarities between Hilketa and an ancient Mesoamerican game. Usually the players in ancient times used rubber balls, though there’s speculation that losing players were sometimes decapitated as a sacrifice. We like Scalzi’s sci-fi version, where a game that includes decapitation doesn’t necessarily have to include death!

  4. Leaving Scot Sigler Galactic Football League out of this list is just crazy. The GFL is the best sci fi action packed series EVER!!!

  5. Baseball as played in “Joy in Mudville” by Gordon R. Dickson, 1983, where one team is allowed to cheat because, being culturally sensitive, and the team’s culture includes cheating as a lifestyle, they are of course allowed to cheat.

  6. I’m sure this was just an oversight, but author Scott Sigler’s Galactic Football League series and spin-off stories are better than all the books listed in this article. I implore this article’s writer and readers to look up these books.

  7. The short story “Roller Ball Murder” by William Harrison, which the screenplay of the James Caan movie was based on, is one of my favorite sci-fi sports stories.

  8. There are two magnificent games that appear in the works of Jack Vance.
    HUSSADE is played on a network of beams over a large tank of water, using pugil sticks to attack the apposing team. The object is to pull a cord that disrobes the team mascot, a young lady who sits at the ‘goal’ position, wearing a single, easily removed, garment. The game is mentioned in several of his Gaean Reach novels, and is one of the central themes in Trullion: Alastor 2262.
    HADAUL appears in The Face, the fourth Demon Princes novel. There is a good description on the game on Wikipaedia.
    Both of these games could actually be played, unlike some of the ones listed above…
    Quite apart from that, the books themselves are wonderful.

  9. The New AToms Bombshell by Robert Browne is a very interesting look at baseball and how it might be gamed (excuse the expression) using data. The book is copyright 1980 but some of what is there is about as current as you can get.

  10. If you expand your search to Manga, Battle Angel Alita (the source of the upcoming motion picture) has a major arc around Motorball, a cross between a race and demolition derby set on a track with features that only advanced cyborg bodies can navigate, much less at competitive speed.

  11. What about FLESH by Philip Jose Farmer? Now that’s a version of baseball a lot of guys would find less boring than the current one.

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