Sports in SFF


As it happens, when it comes to sports, I am among the most entirely disinterested people you’ll ever meet. I barely know (or care) whether the Super Bowl is a football thing or a baseball thing.

Nevertheless, the title of that post did catch my eye. It made me think immediately of the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliot, where a particular type of handball sport was very important. I believe the reader encounters this aspect of the plot in the second book, but regardless, it’s definitely front and center for some part of the trilogy.

And obviously there’s quidditch.

Still, it’s true that we don’t see that many teams playing sports in SFF worlds (do we?). The author of the post says:

Because this is something that’s always been a mystery to me: how is that these elaborate SFF worlds come with their own ecology and political landscape and four fictional languages with five dialects each, but so rarely feature their own sporting events?

Which, okay, I grant, that’s a fair point. The author goes on to note a few instances where sports appear in SFF novels, and I have to admit, I totally missed the gladiatorial combat with sharks in Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamorra series (How did I miss that? It sounds pretty impressive.).

She then goes on to suggest reasons sports might not be a thing SFF authors include in worldbuilding. In my case, I guess it’s #1 (not a sports fan in real life) and #4 (not an expected feature, so I don’t think about it).

However, I do feel like I’ve skimmed across descriptions of sports here and there in SFF novels. Anybody got an example they can think of?

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10 thoughts on “Sports in SFF”

  1. Way back, before YA became a real split in books, there was Lightner? Lichtner? who had a book centered on the interplanetary equivalent of the Olympics. .. invokes ISFDB, The Space Olympics by A.M. Lightner.

    And my kid has invented a few sports for the world, no team sports really, though.

    I’m like you – didn’t get the sports gene – so mostly don’t notice real world sports and don’t miss them in reading.

  2. The one that immediately comes to mind for me is the ‘bowliball’ in the Liaden universe books by Lee and Miller, especially Fledgling and Saltation – it sounds like a sort of squash with a ball that’s especially erratic, so pilots who are good at figuring out trajectories on the fly like to play it.

  3. In Tortall, there are jousting tournaments. We see this especially in the Kel books.

    Mercedes Lackey loved Quidditch so much she made up versions of it for Valdemar twice (kirball and I-can’t-remember-the-other).

    The Court of Fives books are all based around a competition and the teams of people who compete in it.

    In Sherwood Smith’s Inda books, the academy boys play battle games. Maybe not the same since it’s very linked with the school and what they’re learning?

    In Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series, the dominant sport is fighting — more or less MMA style, with the best fighters serving as celebrities.

    Star Wars, of course, has pod racing.

  4. I see I’m late to the party. Baitey, Quidditch are indeed the obvious. Others have thought of all the games I was likely to come up with, like Fives. (And if jousting counts, so too does baseball, which shows up from time to time in SF.)

  5. There’s baseball in Katherine Kerr’s Polar City series.
    And in Richard Penn’s first Asteroid Police book, a body is found by a quidditch team- who play a game much more like Rowling’s original since it’s in zero g so they can sort-of fly, but who have to play their opponents over VR since they live in another small asteroid colony thousands of kilometres away.

  6. • hoverbike racing in Wen Spencer’s Elfhome series
    • Ann Leckie’s short story “She Commands Me and I Obey (Imperial Radch #0.6)” with political appointments determined by the playing of a game (if I recall correctly, some kind of religious ball game)
    • rugby style game played by apprentices, pages, etc. in Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Saga
    • Polo style game in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books – I think it was within the Collegium Chronicles (evolved from arms training into a spectator game)
    • The World Championships of ley-line racing in Karen Chance’s Cassandra Palmer and Dorina Basarab series
    • Tairo in the Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Höst
    • cricket in Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
    • runner racing in Moreta’s Ride
    • Liaden short story with some kind of racing
    • The Imperial Games within Deadly Games (The Emperor’s Edge #3) by Lindsay Buroker 
    • The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

    If (voluntary) Arena Combat competitions count, in:
    • Fury’s Kiss (Dorina Basarab #3) and Shadow’s Bane (#4) by Karen Chance
    • Lord’s Fall (Elder Races, #5) by Thea Harrison
    • Magic Strikes (Kate Daniels #3) by Ilona Andrews
    • sword tournament in The Uncrowned King by Michelle West

  7. It’s not central to the plot, but a popular pro sport is mentioned in the Touchstone books.

    Do holodeck/ exercise rooms on spaceships count? Probably not.

    I think in a lot of cases you only get sports if they’re plot-relevant. Like, a character competes in gladiatorial combat.

  8. SarahZ, yes, the author generally just can’t spend a lot of words of something that isn’t moving the plot along. If she does, probably her editor will say, “Maybe you should trim this entire scene? And that one? Please consider cutting the whole sport; it’s slowing down the main plotline …”

  9. Great list, Pamela, thank you! I am so not into sports that I remember nothing about Taino, even though I’ve read the Touchstone trilogy quite a few times.

  10. Marella Sands has a brilliant short story, “The Game of Lions”, about a national cricket team playing an exhibition game after an uneasy peace in an Nigeria-inspired fantasy world. It’s in the collection Lace and Blade 4.

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