15 Best Sports and Games Science Fiction Books

I’m more of a D&D and board game guy than a sports nut, but I made sure there’s something for everyone on this list. Unless you hate all sports and games of any sort. In which case, how did you get here? (Also, check out the mystery book on the list.)

 

15
Steel: and Other Stories
by Richard Matheson – 2009

Imagine a future in which the sport of boxing has gone high-tech. Human boxers have been replaced by massive humanoid robots. And former champions of flesh-and-blood are obsolete…

Richard Matheson’s classic short story “Steel” was the basis for a Twilight Zone episode as well as the Hugh Jackman movie Real Steel. (I had honestly thought the movie was based on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. I might actually see it now.)

Also featured is a bizarre satirical fantasy, “The Splendid Source,” that was turned into an episode of Family Guy.

Richard Matheson was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

“The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson.”
—Stephen King

14
Runtime
by S. B. Divya – 2016

2016 Nebula Award finalist for Best Novella

The Minerva Sierra Challenge is a grueling spectacle, the cyborg’s Tour de France. Rich thrill-seekers with corporate sponsorships, extensive support teams, and top-of-the-line exoskeletal and internal augmentations pit themselves against the elements in a day-long race across the Sierra Nevada.

Marmeg Guinto doesn’t have funding, and she doesn’t have support. She cobbled her gear together from parts she found in rich people’s garbage and spent the money her mother wanted her to use for nursing school to enter the race. But the Minerva Challenge is the only chance she has at a better life for herself and her younger brothers, and she’s ready to risk it all.

“This science fiction debut is a gripping, thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking piece.”
―Kirkus Reviews

13
Bedlam
by Christopher Brookmyre – 2013

Would it be your ultimate fantasy to enter the world of a video game?

A realm where you don’t have to go to work or worry about your health; where you can look like a hero or a goddess; where you can fly spaceships, slay dragons, yet all of it feels completely real? Or a realm where there are no consequences and no responsibilities?

Or would it be your worst nightmare?

Stuck in an endless state of war and chaos where the pain and fear feels real and from which not even death can offer an escape.

Prison or playground, heaven or Hell. This is where you find out.

12
The Game-Players of Titan
by Philip K. Dick – 1963

Years ago, Earth and Titan fought a war and Earth lost. The planet was irradiated and most of the surviving population is sterile. The few survivors play an intricate and unending game called Bluff at the behest of the slug-like aliens who rule the planet. At stake in the game are two very important commodities: spouses and land. Pete Garden just lost his wife and Berkeley, California, but he has a plan to win them back. That is, if he isn’t derailed by aliens, psychic traitors, or his new wife.

“One of the most original practitioners writing any kind of fiction.”
—Sunday Times

11
Future Sports
edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois – 2002

Future Sports is an anthology of sports competition short fiction by some of speculative fiction’s biggest names, including Arthur C. Clarke, Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Swanwick, Alastair Reynolds, Howard Waldrop, Jonathan Lethem, Ian McDonald, and Robert Reed.

10
Arena: Sports SF
edited by Barry Malzberg and Ed Ferman – 1976

This short story collection includes “Gladys’s Gregory” by John Anthony West, in which wives compete in a yearly contest to raise the prize-winning husband who weighs the most. The winner is eaten.

9
Only You Can Save Mankind
by Terry Pratchett – 1992

From the writer of the excellent Discworld novels.

It’s just a game… isn’t it?

The alien spaceship is in his sights. His finger is on the Fire button. Johnny Maxwell is about to set the new high score on the computer game Only You Can Save Mankind.

Suddenly, a message appears: We wish to talk. We surrender.

But the aliens aren’t supposed to surrender—they’re supposed to die!

“A wild ride, full of Pratchett’s trademark humor.”
—Booklist (starred review)

8
The Rookie
by Scott Sigler – 2009

Seven hundred years in the future, the Galactic Football League reigns supreme. Aliens and humans alike play positions based on physiology, creating receivers that jump 25 feet into the air, linemen that bench-press 1,200 pounds, and linebackers that literally want to eat you. Organized crime runs every franchise, games are fixed and rival players are assassinated.

Quentin Barnes is a 19-year-old quarterback prodigy that has been raised all his life to hate and kill those aliens. Quentin must deal with his racism and learn to lead, or he’ll wind up just another stat in the column marked “killed on the field.”

The Rookie is a wild ride that takes football to the next level. Set in a future day of corruption, bigger bodies and bigger stakes, it’s Rollerball between the white lines and a fascinating read.”
—John Clayton, ESPN NFL Analyst

7
The Running Man
by Stephen King – 1982

Ben Richards is a desperate man. With no job, no money, no way out, and a young daughter in need of proper medical attention, he must turn to the only possibility of striking it rich in this near-future dystopian America: participating in the ultra-violent TV programming of the government-sanctioned Games Network.

Ben soon finds himself selected as a contestant on the biggest and the best that the Games Network has to offer: “The Running Man,” a no-holds-barred thirty-day struggle to stay alive as public enemy number one, relentlessly hunted by an elite strike force bent on killing him as quickly as possible in front of an audience all-too eager to see that happen.

It means a billion dollars in prize money if he can live for the next month. No one has ever survived longer than eight days. But desperation can push a person do things they never thought possible—and Ben Richards is willing to go the distance in this ultimate game of life and death….

6
Head On
by John Scalzi – 2018

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth—and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

“[Scalzi’s] prose flows like a river, smoothly carrying us through the story; his characters are beautifully crafted; and his future world is impeccably designed, at the same time wildly imaginative and wholly plausible.”
―Booklist (starred review)

5
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline – 2011

If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”

In the dystopian future, teenage Wade Watts searches for a mysterious Easter egg in a worldwide video game called the OASIS. Finding the Easter egg will cause him to inherit the ownership of the OASIS and billions upon billions of dollars. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for it.

I listened to the audiobook version of Ready Player One, and loved it. Narrator Wil Wheaton nailed it.

4
Blue Adept
by Piers Anthony – 1981

For Stile, life was a matter of shuttling madly between two worlds, with the problems growing greater on each. On the science world of Proton, he was a serf, trying to prove his right to exist by competing in the Great Games. On Phaze, where only magic worked, he was the Blue Adept, trying to master the powers of sorcery. And on both worlds, someone was trying to assassinate him.

Aside from winning increasingly difficult contests with no time to prepare, all he has to do was win the love of the Lady Blue, fight a dragon, discover the ultimate weapon—and, of course, seek the paranoid Adept or the all-powerful Citizen who was trying to kill him!

And now, just when things are growing impossible, he has to fight a mortal duel with the unicorn Herd Leader, against whom his magic powers are useless.

3
Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card – 1985

Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, playing combat games and training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”

2
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins – 2008

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

“A violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.”
—Stephen King

1
The Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks – 1988

The Culture—a human/machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh, the Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possibly his death.

“An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination which writes its own rules simply for the pleasure of breaking them.”
—Time Out

3 thoughts on “15 Best Sports and Games Science Fiction Books

  1. Ender’s Game seems like a longer but less interesting version of Cordwainer Smith’s spellbinding and enthralling ”The Game of Rat and Dragon,” possibly the most accurate depiction of ailurophilia ever written.

  2. Does Ender’s Game ever deal with the fact that Ender and his fellow soldiers are child soldiers? Would we willingly countenance that in real life? I’m not so sure . . . .

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