Away Games: Science Fiction Sports Stories

BOOK: Away Games: Science Fiction Sports Stories
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Table of Contents

Science Fiction Sports Stories

by Mike Resnick

Book Description

What happens when 5-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick turns his attention to sports?

The answers lie within, as you encounter a 7-foot 10-inch robot basketball center, a hexed boxing match, the devil’s least favorite racehorse, a Chicago Bears team that would warm Victor Frankenstein’s heart, and more.

***

Smashwords Edition – 2014

WordFire Press
wordfirepress.com

ISBN: 978-1-61475-224-0

Copyright © 2014 Mike Resnick
Introduction Copyright © 2014 Ken Liu

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover design by Janet McDonald

Art Director Kevin J. Anderson

Cover artwork images by Dollar Photo Club

Book Design by RuneWright, LLC
www.RuneWright.com

Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers

Published by
WordFire Press, an imprint of
WordFire, Inc.
PO Box 1840
Monument, CO 80132

Dedication

To Carol, as always

And to my sports heroes:

Seattle Slew

Michael Jordan

Gale Sayers

Swoon’s Son

Ted Williams

Kelso

Jack Nicklaus

Sugar Ray Robinson

Angel Cordero, Jr.

Luke Appling

Bill Hartack

Ruffian

Vince Lombardi

Eddie Arcaro

Rocky Marciano

Zenyatta

***

Introduction

by Ken Liu

Much about athletic competition defies rational analysis: why should we care about how fast someone runs in an oval, how far something is thrown or hit, whether an oblong or spherical object is caught, whether the person lands on their feet after twirling and tumbling through the air, whether the Red Sox or the Yankees win …

(Hint: the correct answer is that the Red Sox should win. No explanation necessary. Full stop.)

Sure, it’s fun to play the game, but what explains our emotional investment in the outcome of the game as
mere spectators
?

Is the joy we derive from watching sports analogous to the pleasure we get from reading adventure books—a kind of vicarious participation? Is it about admiring the grace and beauty of the human form striving to achieve what seems impossible, to explore the limits of endurance, agility, speed, and strength? Is it about anticipating the strategy of coaches, decrying the bias of referees, screaming as part of a mob in a stadium, and arguing with friends in front of a TV? Is it about identifying with a team, a region, an accent, a certain name and color of jersey and logo and all the legends and lore that have been built up around them?

Whatever the reasons, we do care; we care a lot. The proof is in the endorsement deals and advertising budgets surrounding athletic competition: lots of zeroes at the ends of those numbers.

Modern athletic competition is also characterized by the increasing involvement of high technology: space age materials and outlandish designs generated by supercomputers are used to construct racing yachts; controversies flare up over advanced swimsuits at the Olympics; athletes and regulators engage in an arms race over performance enhancing drugs and the methods for their detection; biomechanics research, high-speed cameras, and big data statistics have transformed our understanding of what is happening on the field; fans and pundits debate endlessly about the propriety of enhancing athletic performance (and our enjoyment of such performance) through technological means.

And we can already see hints that two of the hottest areas in contemporary research—computing and bio technology—will find applications in sports and generate new controversies: will computers become better at picking out promising prospects for teams than scouts? Instead of relying on judges, referees, and umpires, should we strive to automate all such decision-making in competition to eliminate bias? Will machines succeed as coaches and devise novel strategies on the field? Can we clone famous athletes? Will the use of surgically implanted artificial tendons or muscles be permitted? What about robots competing against humans in the same games?

No wonder sports have proved to be an enduring theme in science fiction. We love to speculate on the future of athletic competition and to dream about ways technology can add to (or detract from) our enjoyment of these contests.

Here, in your hands, is a collection of science fiction stories about sports written by Mike Resnick, who is the award-winningest science fiction author in short fiction, the all-time champion, according to
Locus
.

These stories evoke the wonder and romance and passion of sports through a science fictional lens: you’ll see heroes and fans and pick teams and take sides; you’ll read fables, tall-tales, serious speculation and mythic allusions; you’ll find Mike’s characteristic humor and tugs at the heart; you’ll cheer, curse, stand still, laugh triumphantly, and perhaps even shed a tear.

Grab your favorite drink; dish up some chips and salsa; you’re in for a treat.

(And I’ll even forgive Mike for not including a single story in here about how the Red Sox defeated the Yankees. Maybe next time.)

***

The Big Guy

Author’s Note: Basketball

To this day, every coach and every player in just about every sport stresses the importance of playing with emotion. Well, emotion is fine for the fans in the stands, but I had a sneaking suspicion that under certain conditions it could be a detriment on the court or field of play. I said so, on Facebook or some other forum, and almost no one agreed with me, which encouraged me to write this story.

Everyone called him the Big Guy.

He was seven feet nine inches tall, strong as a bull, and graceful as a gazelle.

I don’t think anyone could pronounce his real name, not even the guys who created him. I remember hearing them refer to him as Ralph-43 a couple of times, which kind of makes you wonder what happened to Ralphs 1 through 42.

Still, it was none of my concern. I don’t get paid to think. I get paid to rebound and play defense and once in a while, when our first two or three options are covered, to put the ball in the hoop—or at least to try.

My name’s Jacko Melchik. I’m pretty tall, though nothing like the Big Guy. I’m six feet ten and I weigh 257 pounds. (Well, I did after practice this morning. Now that I’ve had some fluids I’m probably up around 265.) That’s what I
am
. I’ll tell you what I’m
not
: strong as a bull or graceful as a gazelle.

It was only a matter of time before they went out and got a better center than me, but no one ever anticipated what they wound up with: I don’t know if he was a robot or an android or some other word, but I know he was the most awesome basketball player I ever saw. I’d seen old holos of Wilt the Stilt, and of Kareem and Shaq and all the others, but they looked like kids next to the Big Guy.

I still remember the day he walked out onto the court during a morning practice. Fishbait McCain—that’s our coach; no one’s sure how he got the nickname, but they say he once ate a bunch of nightcrawlers when he got drunk on a fishing trip—walked over to me and pulled me aside.

“I want to see what this machine can do,” he said. “If he backs into the lane, keep a forearm on him, and when he goes up for a shot, give him a shove. Let’s see how he handles it.”

“I been reading the newsdisks,” I replied. “I know what he cost. I don’t want to damage him.”

“He’s gonna take a lot worse than that if I put him in a game,” said Fishbait. “I got to know how he reacts.”

“You’re the boss,” I said with a shrug.

“I’m glad someone around here remembers that,” said Fishbait. He clapped his hands to get the team’s attention, then gestured for the Big Guy to step forward. “Men,” he said, “this is our newest player. I know you’ve all read and heard about him. If he’s half what they say he is, I think you’re gonna be happy Mr. Willoughby outbid all the other owners for him.”

“Jesus, he’s bigger’n I imagined!” said Scooter Thornley, our point guard.

“He’s bigger than
anyone
imagined!” chimed in Jake Jacobs, our back-up power forward. “You got a name, Big Guy?”

“My name is Ralph,” he answered in surprisingly human tones. “I am pleased to meet you all, and to join the Montana Buttes.”

“You can feel pleasure?” asked Doc Landrith, our trainer.

“No,” said the Big Guy. “But good manners required such an answer.”

“Well,” said Doc, “if you don’t have any emotions, at least Goliath Jepson ain’t gonna scare you when you go up against him.” Jepson was leading the league in rebounds and technical fouls. I don’t think anyone liked him, even his teammates.

“Okay,” said Fishbait. He tossed a ball to the Big Guy. “Let’s try a little one-on-one. Ralph, let’s see what you can do against Jacko here.”

The Big Guy took a look at me, his face totally expressionless. I moved forward to lean on him a little, just enough to make contact and see which way he was going to move when he began his drive to the basket, but before I got close enough to touch him he’d already raced by me and stuffed the ball through the hoop.

“Again,” said Fishbait.

This time I reached up to stick a hand in his face and obscure his vision. He responded with a vertical leap that must have been close to 60 inches, and swished the ball through from the 3-point line.

That was the beginning of a ten-minute humiliation in which the Big Guy out-quicked me, out-stronged me, out-jumped me, made every shot he took, and blocked all but two that I took.

We spent the next ten minutes double-teaming him. Got him to double-dribble once, and one other time I saw him move his pivot foot but Fishbait wouldn’t call it, and he beat the pair of us 30 to 0.

“Men,” said Fishbait when the second humiliation was over, “I think we gut us a center.”

It meant that I was out of a job, at least as a starter, but how could I object? We were a pretty good team already; this was just the thing we needed to reach the next level and knock off the Rhode Island Reds for the title.

Each of us in turn walked up to the Big Guy and shook his hand and welcomed him to the team. He couldn’t have been more polite, but you got the feeling he was programmed for good manners, because his face and attitude were no different than when he was racing down court with the ball.

“And you, Jacko,” said Fishbait when we were all done, “I want you to room with Ralph, help him along, and show him the ropes.”

“Room with him?” I repeated. “Don’t you just turn him off at night and turn him on again in the morning?”

“He’s a member of the team, and he’s going to be treated like a member of the team. He’ll travel with us, he’ll room with us, and if he eats he’ll eat with us.” He stopped abruptly and turned to the Big Guy. “
Do
you eat?”

“I can, if we are in public and it is required,” answered Ralph. “I will remove what I ingest later, in private, and get rid of it. Or offer it to my roommate.”

“No, thanks,” I said quickly.

“It will be sterile,” he assured me. “I have no digestive acids.”

“I’ll take a pass on it anyway,” I said.

“All right,” said Fishbait. “We’ll do a 20-minute drill, shirts and skins. Ralph, you’ll play with the shirts. Jacko, you look like you’re ready to drop. Go take a shower; we’ll have Jake play center for the skins. When we’re done we’ll bus back to the hotel. The Cheyenne press hasn’t caught wind of this yet, so maybe we can get back without running into a couple of hundred reporters. Once we’re in the hotel, you’re free to do as you want and go where you want, except Ralph. He doesn’t set foot outside the place until we catch the bus for tomorrow’s game.” He paused. “And you’ll stay with him, Jacko.”

“What for?” I asked.

“School him in our plays, show him how we set our screens, which zones we use against which offenses.”

“He doesn’t need all that, Fishbait,” I said. “Just give him the ball and aim him.”

“That just cost you a thousand bucks,” said Fishbait. “Now I’m gonna ask you again, and if you give me any more lip it’ll be five thousand this time.”

“You wouldn’t do this if I was still your starting center,” I said bitterly.

“There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do if you were still my starting center,” he said. “One of them is winning the championship. Now go take your shower while you can still afford a towel.”

Except for the referees, no one in the history of Man had ever won an argument with Fishbait McCain, so I went and took my shower. When I got back I saw that the shirts were beating the skins 38 to 7, and the Big Guy had 30 points, 4 assists, 6 blocked shots and 11 rebounds, which would have been a good week’s work for me.

When it was over we went back to the hotel, and I showed Ralph to our room.

“I’ve never seen anything like you,” I said admiringly. “I’m pretty good, but you handled me like a baby. I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble with Goliath Jepson.”

“I will not be playing against Goliath Jepson,” he replied.

“Did he blow his knee again?” I said. “If it was on the news I must have missed it.”

“No,” answered the Big Guy. “But I am not the only prototype. At least three others will be entering the league this year, in time for the playoffs.”

“Don’t tell me,” I said grimly. “One of them’s going to play for Rhode Island.”

“Yes, Jacko,” he said. Then: “Will I be expected to join the team for dinner?”

“No, Fishbait gave everyone their freedom—well, everyone but you and me. I’ll either go up to the restaurant on the roof, or order from room service.”

“And what time do you go to sleep?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe eleven.”

“I never sleep,” said Ralph. “Will it bother you if I use the room’s computer? I will adjust it so that it makes no noise.”

“Can you do that?”

“Yes.”

“Okay,” I said. “But do me a favor and just kind of whisper your commands until I’m asleep.”

“I don’t have to,” he replied. “I, too, am a machine. I will simply connect to the computer and you will hear nothing.”

“Whatever makes you happy,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“We are teammates and roommates,” he said. “You can ask me anything you want. I have no secrets from you.”

“What the hell do you need to tie into a computer for? I’ll diagram all our plays for you before I go to bed.”

“I have a compulsion to learn,” answered Ralph.

“About basketball plays?” I said, frowning.

“About everything.”

“So when you’re not playing basketball, you memorize the Library of Congress or something like that?”

“I choose a subject and try to learn everything I can about it, then move on to the next subject. Last night it was Egyptology, with special emphasis on the Twelfth Dynasty.”

“What subject will it be tonight?” I asked.

“Your trainer asked me if I can feel emotions. I cannot. So tonight I will try to learn what I can about them. I have seen them referred to in literature, but until this morning I never realized that of all the living things on the Earth only my kind does not possess emotions.”


Are
you a living thing?” I asked.

He was absolutely motionless for a full minute.

“I will explore that after I learn about emotions,” he replied at last.

“Well, living or not, I’m glad to have you aboard,” I said. “But I can’t help being puzzled, too.”

“What puzzles you?” he asked.

“You’re the most remarkable machine I’ve ever seen,” I said. “Your motions are fluid and graceful, you seem impervious to pain—I gave you a couple of elbows that I guarantee would have decked Goliath Jepson—and you didn’t even shrug them off, you just acted like nothing happened. And here you are, tying into a computer whenever you can, learning everything you can.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe that all they want you to do is play basketball. You should be running Harvard, or the State Department, or something.”

“I am merely a prototype,” he answered. “Eventually the armed forces will consist of nothing but variations of myself, for humans are too important to waste in such a futile pursuit as war. Once we have proven that we can emulate everything a human can do physically, then, under careful guidance, we will be given the ability to make value judgments, which is, after all, what separates humans from robots.”

“But you make value judgments right now,” I noted.

“Explain, please.”

“Let’s say you get the ball at the top of the key. If you’re triple-teamed and I’m free right under the basket, what do you do—pass or shoot?”

“I pass the ball to you. You will be able to dunk the ball, whereas I must shoot it from perhaps 20 feet away.”

“You see?” I said with a smile. “
That’s
a value judgment.”

“True,” he said. “But it is not
my
value judgment. I possess pre-programmed responses to every conceivable situation that can occur on a basketball court. What I was discussing were situations in which
I
choose a course of action, rather than follow one that has been pre-selected for me, based on a given set of circumstances.”

“I envy your skills,” I said, “but I feel sorry for you.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you’ve lived your whole life with the knowledge that you don’t possess free will.”

“My whole life, as you phrase it, is only 16 days in duration, and I am not aware of any advantages that accrue to one who possesses free will. The element of choice must inevitably imply the possibility of incorrect choices.”

“I’m sorry for you anyway,” I said.

I decided the conversation was getting us nowhere, so I started diagramming our plays and giving him their code words. Once every six or seven plays he’d stop and ask a question, but within an hour we were done. I went up to the restaurant for dinner, and when I came back up Ralph was sitting motionless in front of the computer, a small wire going from his left forefinger to the back of the machine. He hadn’t moved when I woke up in the morning.

We showed up two hours before game time, got into our uniforms, and warmed up for about half an hour—all except Ralph, who didn’t need to work up a sweat (and probably couldn’t sweat anyway).

Then the game started, and for the first time in two years—well, the first time when I wasn’t nursing an injury—I stayed on the bench.

It was a slaughter. Wyoming had beaten us by 8 points the last time we’d met, and they’d held Scooter Thornley, our highest scorer, to just two baskets. But this time we were up 22 points at halftime, and we blew them out by 43. I even got to play once the lead was safe. As for the Big Guy, he scored 53 points, pulled down 24 rebounds, and had 9 assists, just missing a triple-double by one assist.

He got a quadruple-double two nights later in Tulsa, the first player in history ever to pull it off: 61 points, 22 rebounds, 11 assists and 12 blocked shots. It’s a damned good thing he couldn’t feel pain, because all the back-thumping and slapping he got in the locker room could have sent a normal human to the emergency room.

We had 12 games left on our schedule and won them all. Three other robots had come into the league, and the teams that didn’t have any were screaming bloody murder, because the only time one of the four robot-owning teams lost was when they played another. The league decided that the season was becoming a public relations disaster (in all but four cities, anyway), and declared that this year alone the playoffs would be single-game eliminations rather than seven-game series, that we’d go back to the normal playoff structure, which took about two months, next year when all the teams had robots and there was some form of parity.

BOOK: Away Games: Science Fiction Sports Stories
6.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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