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Future Sports
edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
Ace Books, 257 pages

Future Sports
Jack Dann
Jack Dann was born in Johnson City, New York, in 1945. He received his BA from Binghamton University in 1967. He has taught at Cornell University and Broome Community College, and has run an advertising agency. He still retains big business links as a director of a New York insurance company. Perhaps best known for his short fiction, which has appeared in Omni, Playboy, Asimov's SF and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jack Dann is also a consulting editor for Tor Books. His work has resulted in him being a finalist for the Nebula Award 11 times and a World Fantasy Award finalist 3 times.

Jack Dann Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's SF Magazine. He is an editor of the multi-volume Magic Tales fantasy series with Jack Dann and the Isaac Asimov's... series with Sheila Williams, both from Ace Books.

Asimov's SF Magazine Website
ISFDB Bibliography

SF Site Review: Space Soldiers
SF Site Review: Future War
SF Site Review: Nanotech

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Mixing sports and science fiction can be a bit of an oil and water proposition. Science fiction fans and sports fans have some things in common, they are passionate about their particular predilection, and both have sometimes been known to dress unconventionally in public. Yet, for whatever reasons, the two groups do not overlap much. (I have heard friends who are SF fans refer to the "jock mentality" in the same tone of voice that some friends who are sports fans use when talking about that "geeky sci-fi stuff"). Luckily for those of us who do appreciate both athletic and writing talent, there have always been a few writers around willing to mix it up, to write a sports story with an element that also makes it science fiction. Past anthologies with this theme have often been a hit or miss proposition, with a good story or two included but mostly forgettable, as if the writers were either science fiction buffs who didn't really understand sports, or sports fans who didn't really know how to write science fiction. Anyone hoping for a combination story that could capture the excitement of a good game with the wonder of SF was more often than not left wanting.

Now comes an anthology where both the editors and the writers, for the most part, get it right. Future Sports is filled with stories and characters whose struggles will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to run, throw, kick, hit, or just plain play better than another human being. And the stories are set in futures where new technologies and abilities have changed people enough to give us a new look at the games they play.

Future Sports begins with the one classic reprint in the collection. Arthur C. Clarke's "The Wind From the Sun" is a sailing yarn, in this case a light-sail race to the moon. The story is told in Clarke's customary cool style, the smooth prose a sheen over the emotions of the narrator and leader of the race. It's easily the oldest story in the book, the rest of the selections were first printed no earlier than 1983, with most appearing in the 90s.

Any collection of good sports writing is bound to feature a couple of baseball stories, and baseball is well represented in Future Sports. Andrew Weiner's "Streak" tells of a rookie about to break DiMaggio's hitting streak. The author seems to be trying for an affect similar to Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore's "Vintage Season," with its mix of decadent elegance and the fascination of watching a horrific event from a safe distance, but doesn't quite pull it off, perhaps because the aliens don't really get involved in the story until near the end. The other baseball story, "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson, is much better, one of the two best stories in the collection. Robinson spins a classic tale of a small-town game, where the cunning visitor from Earth shows the local hurler a new pitch, and the outfield literally stretches to the horizon.

The other stand-out in Future Sports is Jonathan Lethem's "Vanilla Dunk," a story that perfectly captures the current street-smart style of the National Basketball Association and its top athletes. Basketball has become a game where the best professionals are so good that in order to distinguish themselves it's not enough to simply master the skills of the game, what counts just as much is the style and attitude with which you play. In a near-future NBA where teams draft the recorded skills of past stars, Lethem shows us what happens when the lottery matches up Michael Jordan's talent and ability with a smart-mouthed white kid.

Other very good efforts in Future Sports include Howard Waldrop's story of what happens to sumo wrestling after its master practitioners start learning how to throw their opponents without touching them, "Man-Mountain Gentian," and Ian McDonald's "Winning," where a young Moslem runner of great talent is torn between his faith and the temptations of what it takes to win the corporation-sponsored Pan-Olympics.

What these stories capture that seemed to be missing in past science fiction sports stories is that feeling of what it's like to make a great play, to hit a good shot, to really enjoy playing a game. The stories in Future Sports nearly all succeed in capturing that feeling and more. The more is what we all expect from good science fiction, a look at what things might be like if technology and the future brought us new ways to live and play, with the emphasis, these are sports stories after all, being on play.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson is currently full of the joy that comes from living in a town with a good baseball team (Go Twins!). His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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