Super Sunday

Super Sunday

Today, millions of people will be watching armored gladiators bash themselves violently into other armored gladiators. The wounded will fall and limp, aided by small men half their size, off to the sidelines. The crowd will roar with each brutal collision. The victors will bask in the ecstacy of victory and the losers will hang their heads and slip off in silence to lick their wounds and nurse their disappointment.

One thing that has puzzled me about the science fiction and fantasy genre is the near-complete inability of an otherwise creative collection of authors to create credible futuristic or fantasy sports. As a longtime member of the SFWA I have observed that writers tend to be endomorphs. So, my pet theory is that the main reason for the relative lack of sports in the literature stems from a general lack of personal familiarity with sports combined with the intellectual tendency towards the obscure and the cerebral. I would venture to guess that there are more published fantasy authors with fencing experience than ever played high school football. On the other hand, the number of serious martial arts practitioners, a few of whom are physically imposing specimens, tends to belie this notion. But, it seems to me that given the high level of interest in sport across a wide variety of modern societies, it is remarkable that it’s not something that most fantasy authors are inclined to write about.

Of course, when one considers the complete silliness of the few attempts in this area, such as Quidditch and Warhammer’s Bloodbowl, it’s easy to conclude that perhaps the authors are doing the wise thing by leaving well enough alone.

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John R. Fultz

Well, sports itself is a civilized metaphor for war. What used to be endless tribal warfare in our ancestral past (with very real deaths, heroes, and victims) has been translated and transmogrified by modern humanity into sports–it’s how we deal with that war-hungry side of our human natures–that side that wants to CRUSH the opposition, to stand on top of the hill and scream victory to the blood-red sky, the side that wants to rage, smash, kill, and annihilate the Other.

Sports (in the modern world) is one of the FEW things that marks us as having truly civilized ourselves… at least a bit, anyway. Instead of constant warfare and chaos, civilized nations have sports…the best way of channeling our innate lust for battle and conquest without spreading actual death and destruction. Ritualized sports are the mark of moral evolution among humanity. (Notice those societies that are still plagued with endless warfare and savagery tend NOT to have many organized sports…they have the real thing instead…savagery and chaos instead of organized simulated savagery and chaos tempered by mock battle-skill.)

When it comes to fantasy authors, the majority of fantasy (and a lot of sci-fi) worlds are throwbacks to our violent past. These worlds of fantasy explore our genetic predisposition for violence and conquest by dealing with it DIRECTLY, instead of indirectly like sports does. In such societies where open warfare, savage violence, and might-makes-right conquest is the order of the day, there is no time, no reason, and no room for ritualized sports.

I think the “transition” from the ancient world to the modern world can be seen in the Roman gladiatorial games. These were basically sports with ACTUAL death, brutality and savagery. It took several hundred more years before the Romans stopped killing people and realized you could have engaging, entertaining sports without all the blood and guts.

Since fantasy (and a lot of sci-fi) deal with this side of human nature directly, they don’t usually consider it with sports institutions…which are the indirect ways of dealing with it.

All that said, I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the odd Harry Potter movie now and again…but when they start playing Quidditch my immediate reaction is: “Uh, what else is on?”

Sports in fantasy? No thank you…I prefer a good, bloody battle.


European-analogue fantasy settings usually seem to draw on the two sports models from their base societies – medieval tournaments (for instance, George RR Martin gives good joust) and gladiatorial combat. Fantasy sports from outside those paradigms… now there’s another question, unless the endless small variations of chess/draughts/Go count!

(Don’t think I’ve ever seen a chessboxing fantasy, though…)

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