This entry deals with games as a theme within sf. Games based on sf are treated under GAMES AND TOYS.Just as sf's concern with the ARTS has been dominated by stories about the decline of artistry in a mechanized mass society, so its concern with sports has been much involved with representing the decline of sportsmanship. There is a marked tendency in contemporary sf to assume that the audience-appeal of futuristic sports will be measured by their rendering of violence in terms of spectacle: the film ROLLERBALL (1975) is perhaps the clearest expression of this notion.There are two forms of stereotyped competitive violence which are common in sf: the gladiatorial circus and the hunt. The arena is part of the standard apparatus of romances in the Edgar Rice BURROUGHS tradition, and extends throughout the history of sf to such modern variants as that found in the Dumarest series by E.C. TUBB (1967 onwards). Combat between human and ALIEN is the basis of Fredric BROWN's popular "Arena" (1944) and a host of similar stories, while many visions of a corrupt future society foresee the return of bloody games in the Roman tradition-Frederik POHL's and C.M. KORNBLUTH's Gladiator-at-Law (1955) is a notable example. The BattleTech SHARED-WORLD series (see also Robert THURSTON) moves theformula on to a galactic stage. Ordinary hunting is extrapolated to take in alien prey in such stories as the Gerry Carlyle series by Arthur K. BARNES (1937-46; coll 1956 as Interplanetary Hunter), and a familiarvariant has mankind as the victim rather than the hunter; examples include THE SOUND OF HIS HORN (1952) by SARBAN, Come, Hunt an Earthman (1973) byPhilip E. HIGH and many works by Robert SHECKLEY, ranging from "Seventh Victim" (1953) and "The Prize of Peril" (1958) to such recent novels as Victim Prime (1986 UK) and Hunter/Victim (1987 UK). A notable series of relevant theme anthologies is the 3-vol Starhunters series (1988-90) ed David A. DRAKE. The oft-presumed equivalence between the spectator-appealof sport and that of dramatized violence reached its peak in Norman SPINRAD's "The National Pastime" (1973) and the film DEATH RACE 2000(1975).An opposing trend is one which suggests that the people of the future might substitute rule-bound war games for actual wars, thus avoiding large-scale slaughter of civilians. The idea was first mooted by George T. CHESNEY in The New Ordeal (1879); sf versions of it include"Mercenary" (1962; exp vt Mercenary from Tomorrow 1968) and its sequel The Earth War (1963) by Mack REYNOLDS and the Gamester War series begun with The Alexandrian Ring (1987) by William R. FORSTCHEN, and also a number of films, including GLADIATORERNA (1968) and ROBOT JOX (1990).The sf sports story is almost entirely a post-WWII phenomenon, although the pre-WWII pulps did feature Clifford D. SIMAK's "Rule 18" (1938) - in which one of the ever-popular "all-time great" teams is actually assembled - and one or two rocket-racing stories, such as Lester DEL REY's "Habit" (1939); and much earlier van Tassel SUTPHEN had included a couple of golfing-sf stories in his The Nineteenth Hole: Second Series (coll 1901). Many early post-WWII stories are accounts of man/machine confrontation (MACHINES; ROBOTS). Examples include the golf story "Open Warfare" (1954) by James E.GUNN, the boxing stories "Title Fight" (1956) by William Campbell Gault and "Steel" (1956) by Richard MATHESON, the chess story "The 64-Square Madhouse" (1962) by Fritz LEIBER, and the motor-racing story "The UltimateRacer" (1964) by Gary Wright, who also wrote a fine bobsled-racing sf story in "Mirror of Ice" (1967). The changing role of the automobile in post-WWII society provoked a number of bizarre extrapolations, including H. Chandler ELLIOTT's violent "A Day on Death Highway" (1963), RogerZELAZNY's story about a car-fighting matador, "Auto-da-Fe" (1967), and Harlan ELLISON's "Along the Scenic Route" (1969). Other popular sf themes are often combined with sf sports stories. Gambling of various kinds appears in many ESP stories, for obvious reasons, and superhuman powers are occasionally employed on the sports field, as in Irwin Shaw's "Whispers in Bedlam" (1973) and George Alec EFFINGER's "Naked to theInvisible Eye" (1975). Stories which examine the possible impact of biotechnology on future sports include Howard V. Hendrix's "The Farm System" (1988) and Ian MCDONALD's "Winning" (1990). Full-length novelsabout future sport are relatively rare; examples include The Mind-Riders (1976) by Brian M. STABLEFORD, about boxing, and The New Atoms Bombshell(1980) by Robert Browne (Marvin Karlins (1941-)), about baseball.Games are used as a key to social advancement and control in a number of stories, including The Heads of Cerberus (1919; 1952) by Francis STEVENS, World out of Mind (1953) by J.T. MCINTOSH, SOLAR LOTTERY (1955; vt Worldof Chance) by Philip K. DICK and Cosmic Checkmate (1962) by Katherine MACLEAN and Charles V. DE VET. Some sf stories produce future or alternateworlds where games are fundamental to the social fabric, as in Hermann HESSE's Das Glasperlenspiel (1943; trans M. Savill as Magister Ludi 1949US; preferred trans Richard and Clara Winston as The Glass Bead Game 1969 US) and Gerald MURNANE's The Plains (1982); a vicious games-based culture is successfully attacked by the protagonist of Iain M. BANKS's space opera The Player of Games (1988). In other novels by Philip K. Dick, includingThe Game-Players of Titan (1963) and THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (1965), games function as levels of pseudo-reality. Sf writers who have shown a particular and continuing interest in games or sports include Barry N. MALZBERG, who often uses surreal games to symbolize frustratingand ultimately unbeatable alienating forces - as in the apocalyptic Overlay (1972) and Tactics of Conquest (1974), and in thequasi-allegorical The Gamesman (1975) - George Alec EFFINGER, who also uses game situations as symbols of the limitations of rationality and freedom, notably in "Lydectes: On the Nature of Sport" (1975) and "25 Crunch Split Right on Two" (1975), and Piers ANTHONY, who often uses gamesto reflect the structures of his plots, notably in MACROSCOPE (1969), Ox (1976), Steppe (1976) and Ghost (1988). The game which has most frequentlyfascinated sf writers is chess, featured in Charles L. HARNESS's "The Chessplayers" (1953) and Poul ANDERSON's "The Immortal Game" (1954) aswell as Malzberg's Tactics of Conquest. John BRUNNER's The Squares of the City (1965) has a plot based on a real chess game, and Ian WATSON'sQueenmagic, Kingmagic (1986) includes a world structured as one (as well as worlds structured according to other games, including Snakes and Ladders!). Gerard KLEIN built the mystique of the game into Starmaster'sGambit (1958; trans 1973). A version of chess crops up in the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs - in The Chessmen of Mars (1922) - and a rather more exotic variant plays an important role in The Fairy Chessmen (1951; vt Chessboard Planet; vt The Far Reality) by Lewis Padgett (Henry KUTTNER andC.L. MOORE). An anthology of chess stories is Pawn to Infinity (anth 1982) ed Fred SABERHAGEN.In recent years the rapid real-world evolution of electronic arcade games and home-computer games has sparked off a boom in stories where such games become too real for comfort. Notable examples include "Dogfight" (1985) by Michael SWANWICK and William GIBSON, Octagon (1981) by Saberhagen, TRUE NAMES (1981; 1984) by Vernor VINGE, ENDER'SGAME (1978; exp 1985) by Orson Scott CARD, God Game (1986) by Andrew M. GREELEY and Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) by Terry PRATCHETT (see also VIRTUAL REALITY). Stories of space battles whose protagonists are revealed in the last line to be icons in a computer-game "shoot 'em up" may have succeeded Shaggy God stories (ADAM AND EVE) as the archetypal folly perpetrated by novice writers (although Fredric Brown's similarly plotted "Recessional" (1960), where the protagonists are chessmen, has been much anthologized). Many computer-game scenarios are, of course, sciencefictional, as are many of the scenarios used in fantasy role-playing games (GAMES AND TOYS; GAME-WORLDS).When it comes to inventing new games, sf writers have had very limited success. There have been one or two interesting descriptions of sports played in gravity-free conditions, but these are usually incidental to the real concerns of the stories in which they occur; stories set in SPACE HABITATS frequently include descriptions of "flying" games played in the vicinity of the rotational axis. Sling-gliding, in which glides are accelerated by massive steel whips, is a plausible and dangerous sport featured in The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch (1975; vt The Girl with a Symphony in herFingers) by Michael G. CONEY. The sport of hussade, which plays a major part in Jack VANCE's Trullion: Alastor 2262 (1973), is unconvincing. The board-game vlet in Samuel R. DELANY's Triton (1976) is cleverly presented, but the details of play are necessarily vague. This game was first written about by Joanna RUSS in "A Game of Vlet" (1974).Games and sports are also very common in FANTASY and SCIENCE FANTASY, especially that set in post- HOLOCAUST or primitive worlds, as in Piers Anthony's early trilogy(1968-75) collected as Battle Circle (omni 1977), or Eclipse of the Kai * (1989) by Joe Dever and John Grant (Paul BARNETT), which features vtovlry, a rugby analogue played triangularly and with throwing-axes. Indeed, the metaphoric nuances of games enliven fantasy of all sorts, fromthe croquet and card games in Lewis CARROLL's Alice books to Sheri S. TEPPER's True Game series; in both cases the arbitrary and obsessivenature of games-playing becomes an image of life itself.A relevant theme anthology is Arena: Sports SF (anth 1976) ed Barry N. Malzberg and Ed FERMAN.
   See also: LEISURE.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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