The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"Unsportsmanlike Conduct" by Scott Westerfeld: An Appreciation by Grace Dugan

Power is not just about winning, it's about making the rules.

An American-led group of colonists establish themselves on a planet to extract its oil (and beam it home via teleport). Every day they play a game of baseball, and one day the aliens, the Taus, decide they want to play, too. They venture out onto the field, and begin a game, and are thrashed. While discussing this game afterwards, the team's xenolinguist says ". . . only one animal organises play-fighting into complex contests of skill. The conflict in sport, the victory and vanquishment, is carefully hiddden under dozens of rules and accomodations. We cannot assume the Tau understand that this is a fight . . . perhaps they have no concept of mock conquest, which is what winning a game is."

This story is all about conquest.

At first the Americans are worried about the bad PR of thrashing the Taus every day, and then when the Taus figure out a way to beat them, they're worried about the bad PR of being thrashed themselves. Exporting their national pastime to the aliens looks great, getting a royal arse-kicking at the same time doesn't.

My team's inability to get an out became the current metaphor for America's outdated infrastructure, our dependence on old paradigms and fossil fuels, our preference for force over finesse . . . . How was our little colony supposed to save the American economy if we couldn't throw a strike?

There's also an irritating English guy called Ashley who's always going on about the superiority of cricket (the "mother game") to baseball, and a mysterious Scot called Iain Claymore.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say that the gentle satire on golden-agey American culture turns satisfyingly sharp at the conclusion.

Go read this one if you haven't already.

Link to story.


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