It’s not unusual in science fiction to create a game or sport for your characters – the Hunger Games, rollerball, Ender’s Game, for example. I was always fascinated by the game of stars and comets in Andre Norton’s novels but alas she never gave us the rules. I thought it might be fun to talk today about a few that have been invented specifically for fantasy or science fiction romance novels.
In my recent novel TRAPPED ON TALONQUE, I needed a reason for the local rulers to keep crash landed Special Forces soldier Nate Reilly and his men alive in the beginning of the adventure, and a challenge for them to overcome, so I developed the game of sapiche. It’s based in part on ritualistic ball games played centuries ago in Central and South America, in part on gladiatorial type contests in ancient Rome and owes a nod to the ritual combat the Aztecs would sometimes put captured warriors through, where they had no real chance of winning and saving their own lives but were forced to fight anyway. Sapiche is like all ball games – there’s passing, blocking, strategy, scoring….and very high stakes. There’s also some double crossing along the way! Not only the lives of Nate and his men were on the line, but also the fate of the beautiful alien sleeping beauty the locals regarded as a goddess.
My own favorite team sport in our real world is NFL football. Go Pack!
In her THE CHAMPION OF BARESH, NYT Best Selling author Susan Grant created an entire interstellar sports franchise around her game of bajha. She had this to say in an interview we did earlier this year on USA Today Happily Ever After:
“I love some of the descriptions of bajha showing up in reviews:
“‘The game of Bajha is an interesting combination of fencing and Blind Man’s Bluff, with aspects of meditation, steeped in centuries-long tradition of warrior honor, and followed with the fervor of modern football.’
“’Bajha is an honored martial discipline everywhere else, but on Barésh it’s wild and governed by underground lords who will do anything to secure the best players for themselves, even maim and kill.’
“Bajha evolved in my mind over the years from a sword game fought in sensory deprivation to a hugely popular sport. For the upper class it was practiced from a very young age, part of the culture, a way to teach the ways of the warrior to young noblemen. On impoverished worlds, the working class played a grittier version with altered rules. But what’s unique and fascinating about the sport is how it develops one’s senses and intuition. Anyone can practice bajha and benefit from it — think yoga and martial arts, combined — but only a special few can ascend to the lofty level of galactic league play. I loved the fact that the talent for bajha doesn’t rely so much on brawn as it does emotional acuity and intuition. That’s one reason Jemm [the heroine of the book] was able to excel. I’d love to learn how to play bajha!”
Susan’s excited about the new TV show Pitch (which isn’t science fiction) because: “It was fun to see a woman athlete competing with and against the guys — even though she’s not in disguise. I really feel it’s Jemm, but in MLB.”
More examples from the world of science fiction romance:
Linnea Sinclair, author of GABRIEL’S GHOST, SHADES OF DARK (the DOCK FIVE UNIVERSE SERIES):
Name of Sport Created: Zero-G Racquetball – Essentially racquetball with all surfaces in play, played in a zero-g environment.
Her inspiration: I played the sport (for fun, only) decades ago, truly enjoyed it, and saw it as a sport that was somewhat gender-neutral. It also was played in an smaller enclosed space and, for my starships and space stations, this was a requirement.
Story involvement: It’s a known diversion in my “Dock Five worlds” and one that also involves gambling (ie: sports book) that figures into both characterization and a running theme with the characters of Sully and Ren (and the rest of the ship’s crew).
Her favorite sport? Ice hockey. Go Lightning!
Tracy Cooper-Posey, author of The Endurance series (5,001,GREYSON’S DOOM, YESTERDAY’S LEGACY, PROMISSORY NOTE, XENOGENESIS coming October 27)
Sport created: Tankball. Played in a glassed-in “tank”, with four different layers of gravity — heaviest at the bottom, none at the top. The ball has handles for grasping and throwing, and can also change weight unexpectedly, adding an additional chance element.
Players who specialize in working in the 2G bottom layers are called Groundmen and they are usually very strong and with large muscles.
Those who play in the zero gravity top layer are Topmen, and are lithe gymnasts. Often, this is where female players shine. The sport is co-ed.
Story involvement: Tankball is stupidly popular, one of the major entertainment distractions on the ship. As the ship progresses along its 1,000 year journey, the sport evolves into a professional association, one that has so much power and influence that when the individual teams sponsor political candidates, the stronger the team, the more likely that candidate will win. Therefore, tankball can influence shipboard policy, which creates problems… (It was this tangling up with the politics of the ship that inspired me to invent the game — plus watching Canadians go crazy over hockey.)
The Tankball Association also holds an annual soiree, and everyone who is anyone on the ship attends, wearing their glittering best. Lots of gossip and scandal happens at the soiree.
As the series progresses, Tankball provides a fertile ground for betting, game rigging, player interference, and more. The hero of 5,001 was charged with game rigging.
Her favorite sport: As a participant, field hockey. As both spectator and participant, Dancesport (which some people don’t call a sport at all). As a spectator, ice dancing. I also have huge respect for gymnasts. When I was living in Australia I used to love watching one-day international cricket matches, but you don’t get those here in North America…
Also, FYI, my husband is a former professional wrestler, and it is from him I got the idea of the muscle-bound Groundmen in Tankball
K. M. Fawcett, author of CAPTIVE:
Sport created: The Survival Race is a blood sport in which the last gladiator alive wins. The competitors are challenged to utilize their strength, endurance, wits, survival skills, and combat skills to fight alien creatures, a harsh arctic environment, and each other. The Hyboreans, the master race on this planet, love to gamble on the human warriors in competitions that could last for days or weeks.
Story involvement: The sport is central to the story because the hero is a tortured alpha gladiator and the heroine has been abducted to be his broodmare. But she decides to escape, he breaks out with her, and their alien master hunts them down in a true race for survival.
The idea for the Survival Race came to me while watching the rescue of mistreated horses on an episode of Animal Cops. I wondered how people would feel if they were penned up and abused. What if humans were pets, and someone — aliens perhaps — bred us and gambled on us for entertainment like we do with horse racing, dog racing, and cockfights? This led me to ponder Greek and Roman gladiators fighting to the death for entertainment.
Her favorite sport: My favorite sports include running and karate. My husband and I own a dojo in NJ where we teach self-defense, Isshinryu karate, and traditional Okinawan weapons. He also helps me run through my fight choreography for my books.
Jaleta Clegg, author of The Fall of the Altairan Empire series (eleven books, but the sport is more prominent in the last four books)
Game created: Comets – a gambling card game played by most Patrol officers. The game is a cross between poker, hearts, pinochle, and the obscure card game Casino. Players can use various cards in their hand to score off what other players put on the table. The game can be played for money or points. It’s used to pass the time aboard ships or as a recreational outlet. It’s an integral part of the military culture. Every cadet learns the game while at the Academy. A spacer who doesn’t play Comets isn’t a real spacer.
Story involvement examples: In Book 5, Cold Revenge, Jerimon uses Comets as a distraction, keeping Dace from uncovering his pending betrayal. She thinks she’s a great card player but he uses his charm and good looks to keep her off balance so he can win at cards and keep her ruffled.
In Book 9, An Indecent Proposal, Comets is used as a cover and code for a clandestine conversation where Dace determines whether she can trust Olin as an ally in the dangerous political situation she faces.
Her favorite sport? I don’t watch or play sports. I do play lots of card games. I love a good rousing game of Uno or Fluxx, especially Firefly Fluxx or Martian Fluxx.
Jenna Bennett, FORTUNE’S HONOR (book 2 in the Soldiers of Fortune series):
Game created: Galactic Doublecross is a card game that’s played for fun as well as for profit in the various gambling establishments across the Nexus. There are tournaments, celebrity players, and big prizes, and there are people playing at home for matchsticks or secrets. The deck is made up of soldiers, commodores, captains, lieutenants, and a coveted admiral. Whoever ends up with the admiral is most likely to win the game, and someone with enough skill can pretty easily stack the deck in anyone’s favor.
Story involvement: In Fortune’s Honor, Holden – our hero – learned to play (and cheat) from his father, Malek Saint Clair, aka The Saint, who was the best player of Galactic Doublecross the world has ever seen. He was also a wife-beating bastard, but that’s beside the point at the moment. Josie – our heroine – grew up on the pleasure planet Avaris, and remembers seeing The Saint when Malek Saint Clair came in for a tournament ten or twelve years ago. She wanted to marry him, but of course she was too young then, and now he’s dead. Holden and Josie play hands of Galactic Doublecross to pass the time while they wait for night to fall so they can stay ahead of the soldiers gunning for them. Holden always wins.
Her favorite game: I have to admit, I don’t play card games at all. Anything wrong with the (fictional) game is no doubt due to that. What appealed to me most about Galactic Doublecross was the name, and the cheating aspect. Holden and Josie are both adept at culling and stacking the deck. I’m not, but it’s fun to pretend.
And one from the world of Fantasy Romance, which I personally wanted to play SO badly after reading the book:
Jeffe Kennedy, author of THE PAGES OF THE MIND:
Game created: The game is called Kiauo, which is kind of like chess, but was also inspired by Mancala. The “board” is stone, inset with jewel-toned tiles that spiral from the center, bisected by concentric lines, making it look much like a spider’s web. Gemstones in light blue or deep green, carved into the shape of tropical animals are the game pieces, with the trophy a dragon carved from a ruby. The various animals can move with different amounts of freedom, depending on their nature.
Story involvement: In this book, my heroine is a librarian sent as a spy to an enemy empire – and who is waylaid by the barbarian king of an island with an active volcano and a newly awakened dragon. His language is totally unrelated to any she knows, which becomes a problem when she inadvertently becomes married to him. Unable to converse – and as she’s invested in avoiding consummating the marriage – they play this strategy game as a way of getting to know each other.
Her favorite sport: These days my favorite “sport” is stand-up paddle-boarding! I love to paddle my board around on the New Mexico lakes while my husband fishes.
Eva Caye, author of NOBILITY:
Adapted into a game: Matrixing, an analysis technique that takes massive amounts of data and represents it physically, using a grid, connectors, and different colors of fuzzy wires, ‘stickies’, and markers. The participants note any trends they see WITHOUT knowing what data they represent, and in the third phase, they look at the data and analyze the trends.
My inspiration was the question: how pure can you make inductive reasoning? Matrixing is taught in college, and is frequently referred to as “the best head game there is”.
Do you have any favorite sports or games from the realm of science fiction and fantasy?