Updates: A New Resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1972 edition of The Space Olympics (1967), A. M. Lightner)

Official Resource Page LINK (this will be updated based on your suggestions).

In the era of Covid-19, sports leagues and events around the world have been cancelled. ESPN runs replays of the glorious past…. partial sports fans like myself miss Major League Soccer and the conclusions to various European football leagues. I thought it would be fun to put together a new resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction. And, these resources serve as a way to organize my reviews (links provided).

To quote from my review of William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder” (1973), “I am (generally) not a fan of sports. I am a fan of science fiction about sports. More specifically, I’m a proponent of sports as a SF vehicle for social commentary on commercialism, trauma, alienation, and violence.”

One last thing before I discuss the list I’ve compiled, let me know your favorites. I am open to tracking a bunch down for my reading pleasure in this sports-deprived world (especially as I’ve been playing more and more board games)….

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Please please please let me know if I’m missing any. I’ll add them to the official resource page. Please let me know generally what the story is about so I can see if it fits.

I’ve used two sports in SF anthologies, my previous knowledge, and SF Encyclopedia to start this list. Definitely check out the SF Encyclopedia entry — it provides far more detail about many of the stories listed below and divides them up based on theme. Note: I’ve added quite a few.

Guidelines: I’m open to a broad interpretation of “sports.” Virtual reality games and video games could constitute as sports, as well as other professional games, like chess or horse racing (Barry N. Malzberg comes to mind), or games with people as players (Robert Sheckley and John Brunner produced quite a few). Future sports! Future Olympics! Board games! Also, numerous authors posit that war will be replaced with sports-esque war games — those too can be suggested. This is a broad list. And that is okay!

As a reminder, if you want to track down any of the stories make sure to use The Internet Speculative Fiction Database for publication histories!

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Before 1950

Tassel Sutphen, The Nineteenth Hole: Second Series (1901)

Francis Stevens, The Heads of Cerberus (magazine 1919; novel 1952)

Clifford D. Simak, “Rule 18” (1938)

L. Sprague de camp, “Nothing in the Rules” (!939)

Lester del Rey, “Habit” (1939)

Fredric Brown, “Arena” (1944)

The 1950s

Sarban, The Sound of His Horn (1952)

Jack Vance, “The Kokod Warriors” (1952)

J. T. McIntosh, World Out of Mind (1953)

Robert Sheckley, “Seventh Victim” (1953)

C. M. Kornbluth, The Syndic (1953)

James E. Gunn, “Open Warfare” (1954)

Poul Anderson, “The Immortal Game” (1954)

Evelyn E. Smith, “BAXBR/DAXBR,” (1954)

Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, Gladiator-at-Law (1954), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

Algis Budrys, “Nobody Bothers Gus” (variant title: “Paul Janvier”) (1955)

Philip K. Dick, Solar Lottery (1955)

Arthur Sellings, “One Across” (1956)

William Campbell, “Title Fight” (1956)

Richard Matheson, “Steel” (1956)

Frederik Pohl, “The Celebrated No-Hit Inning” (1956)

Will Stanton, “Dodger Fan” (1957)

William Tenn, “Winthrop was Stubborn” (1957)

Robert A. Heinlein, “The Menace from Earth” (1957)

Robert Sheckley. “The Prize of Peril” (1958)

Brian W. Aldiss, “Poor Little Warrior!” (1958)

Eric Frank Russell, “Now Inhale” (1959)

James White, “Occupation: Warrior” (1959)

The 1960s

Frederic Brown, “Recessional” (1960)

Fritz Leiber, “The 64-Square Madhouse” (1962)

Katherine MacLean and Charles V. de Vet, Cosmic Checkmate (1962)

Mack Reynolds, “Mercenary” (1962)

John Anthony West, “Gladys’s Gregory” (1962)

Philip K. Dick, The Game-Players of Titan (1963)

H. Chandler Elliott, “A Day on Death Highway” (1963)

Gary Wright, “THe Ultimate Racer” (1964)

Arthur C. Clarke, “The Wind from the Sun” (1964)

Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)

Roger Zelazny, “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth” (1965)

Bruce Jay Friedman, “The Night Boxing Ended” (1966)

Gary Wright, “Mirror of Ice” (1967)

Roger Zelazny, “Auto-da-Fé” (1967)

A. M. Lightner. The Space Olympics (1967)

Robert L. Fish, “To Hell With the Odds” (1968)

Robert Sheckley. “The People Trap” (1968), 4/5 (Good)

Piers Anthony, Battle Circle (1968-1977)

Vance Aandahl, “Beyond the Game” (1968)

Piers Anthony, “Getting Through University” (1968)

Harlan Ellison, “Along the Scenic Route” (variant title: “Dogfight on 101”) (1969)

Suzette Haden Elgin, “For the Sake of Grace” (1969)

Charles Nuetzel, “A Day for Dying” (1969)

Piers Anthony, Macroscope (1969)

The 1970s

Alan Dean Foster, “Why Johnny Can’t Speed” (1971)

Barry N. Malzberg, Overlay (1972)

Irwin Shaw, “Whispers in Bedlam” (1973)

Philip E. High, Come, Hunt an Earthman (1973)

“George Alec Effinger, “Naked to the Invisible Eye” (1973)

William Harrison, “Roller Ball Murder” (1973), 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Barry N. Malzberg, “Closed Sicilian” (1973)

Norman Spinrad, “The National Pastime” (1973)

Jack Vance, Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973)

George R. R. Martin, “Run to Starlight” (1974)

George R. R. Martin, “The Last Super Bowl Game” (1975)

Joanna Russ, “A Game of Vlet” (1974)

Barry N. Malzberg, Tactics of Conquest (1974)

George Alec Effinger, “25 Crunch Split Right on Two” (1975), 4/5 (Good)

Fritz Leiber, “Knight’s Move” (1975)

E. Michael Blake, “Goal Tending” (1975)

Gary K. Wolf, Killerbowl,  (1975), 4.75/5 (Very Good)

Barry N. Malzberg, The Gamesman (1975), 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Michael G. Coney, The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch (variant title: The Girl with a Symphony at her Fingers) (1975)

John Brunner, The Shockwave Rider (1975), 4.5/5 (Very Good)

George Alec Effinger, “Lydectes: On the Nature of Sport” (1975), 4/5 (Good)

Brian M. Sableford, The Mind-Riders (1976)

Piers Anthony, Ox (1976)

Piers Anthony, Steppe (1976)

Bill Prozini, “The Hungarian Cinch” (1976)

Samuel R. Delany, Triton (1976), 4/5 (Good)

Nigel Kneale. “The Year of the Sex Olympics” (1976) (play)

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (magazine, 1977; novel, 1985)

Robert Lynn Asprin, The Cold Cash War (1977)

Bob Shaw, “Dream Fighter” (1977)

Tom Sullivan, “The Mickey Mouse Olympics” (1979)

Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Prozini, “Prose Bowl” (1979)

The 1980s

Robert Browne, The New Atoms Bombshell (1980)

Simon Hawke, “A Glint of Gold” (1980)

Piers Anthony, Blue Adept (1981)

Fred Saberhagen, Octagon (1981)

Vernor Vinge, True Names (1981)

Donald Kingsbury, Courtship Rite (variant title: Geta) (1982)

Michael Scott Rohan, “Vurfing the Gwrx” (1982)

Mike Resnick, “The Olympians” (1982)

Andrew Weiner’s “The Third Test” (1982)

Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything (1982)

Mary Gentle, Golden Witchbreed (1983)

Howard Waldrop, “Man-Mountain Gentian” (!983)

Walter F. Moudy, “The Survivor” (1985)

Michael Swanwick and William Gibson, “Dogfight” (1985)

Robert Sheckley, Victim Prime (1986)

Andrew M. Greeley, God Game (1986)

William R. Fortschen, The Alexandrian Ring (1987)

Robert Sheckley, Hunter/Victim (1987)

Howard V. Hendrix, “The Farm System” (1988)

Ian M. Banks, The Player of Games (1988)

Joe Dever and John Grant, Eclipse of the Kai (1989)

The 1990s-present

Ian McDonald, “Winning” (1990)

Terry Prachett, Only You Can Save Mankind (1992)

Jonathan Lethem, “Vanilla Dunk” (1992)

Andrew Weiner, “Streak” (1992)

Michael Swanwick, “The Dead” (1996)

R. Neube, “The Holy Stomper vs. the Alien Barrel of Death” (1997)

Alastair Reynolds, “Stroboscopic” (1998)

Kim Stanley Robinson, “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” (1999)

Robert Reed, “Game of the Century” (1999)

Chris Bunch, The Scoundrel Worlds (2003)

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) and its sequels

Iain M. Banks, Surface Detail (2010)

Christopher Brookmyre, Bedlam (2013)

11 thoughts on “Updates: A New Resource on Sports and Games in Science Fiction”

      1. Well, I’m also not a sports fan. I vaguely remember liking “Bullard Reflects” by Malcolm Jameson. You can see this on Project Gutenberg Canada. There’s also Arthur C. Clarke’s “A Slight Case of Sunstroke.”

  1. Hmm… There’s also John Brunner’s “The Squares of the City.” It’s not about chess, but the plot is built on a famous chess game.

    1. I’ve read The Squares of the City — forgot about including it!

      I’m not really a sports fan either — that said, I find its effects on society fascinating. And as a fan of social SF, games and sports in the genre is a spectacular combo…. especially in its more abstracted forms (like the Brunner you mentioned). And, works like Malzberg’s The Gamesman (1975): https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2014/07/09/book-review-the-gamesman-barry-n-malzberg-1975/

      1. I like a good social SF too, but I can’t recall reading any good sports-related ones other than Roller Ball Murder. I’ll have to check out the Malzberg.

          1. This has triggered some more synapses. The Racer by Ib Melchior, basis for the Death Race Movies. And, if you’re willing to stretch a point, Ballard’s The Assassination Of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As A Downhill Motor Race.

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