Retro-Hugo 1939, Best Novelette

“Rule 18”

Clifford D. Simak

Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1938

Fellow nominees:

  • “Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard
  • “Werewoman” by C. L. Moore
  • “Hollywood on the Moon” by Henry Kuttner
  • “Dead Knowledge” by Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell]

There couldn’t be a better time to discuss the future of sports, than the first week of regular season football games. I’m not someone who lives or dies by the gridiron, but I’ll admit I have respect for the game. Despite some of their current images, those men put in a lot of effort and work for their paychecks. In today’s entry, we are looking at the novelette, “Rule 18,” in which Clifford D. Simak postulates the future of professional football.

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Rule XVIII – Each player on the respective teams must be able to present documentary evidence that he is of pure blood of the planet upon whose team he plays for an unbroken span of at least ten generations.

– Clifford D. Simak, “Rule 18”

Welcome to 2479 and prepare yourself for a world more diverse than you can imagine. We open on the recent defeat of the Earth football team to the Martian natives. As we learn, Earth is on quite the losing streak against these formidable rivals. The crux of this dilemma is “Rule 18” of the Official Rule Book for the Annual Terrestrial-Martian Football Game. Eligibility for said game hinges on players providing DNA evidence that they are purebloods of their respective planets. So, where’s the problem? As it turns out, a sedentary lifestyle has become the norm on Earth, and the players are weak.

I think this is where Simak excels as a writer. He writes in vignettes, bouncing between characters in the story with nary a transition. One minute you’re looking in on the Terrestrial coach who desires nothing but a win. Next scene can find you sitting in a newsroom as an editor, Hap Folsworth, berates his staff about their latest story on the big game. On first glance, it’s a simple story, but when you consider the world these characters live in, you get a unique commentary on life. As we give more of our responsibilities over to machines, we have to wonder, are we losing a part of ourselves? In the story, the coach finds his solution in the past. It takes a team of players from Earth’s past (back to the aboriginal tribes of North America) to travel through time and challenge the Martians.

All we got to do is push levers and punch buttons. A hell of a lot of muscle you can develop punching a button.

– Hap Folsworth, “Rule 18”

I’ll admit, this story gave me some flashbacks to WALL-E and the bleak future it portrayed for humanity. We can’t ignore how much of today’s life is automated. Every night stories flood the nightly news programs of companies laying off employees in favor of cost-effective automatons. We live with this concern that our livelihoods are in jeopardy by machines, but what of our survival? As the great Darwin hypothesized, it’s survival of the fittest. If we listen to Simak, we may be creating our downfall.

I want to end on an interesting fact about “Rule 18.” As I mention below, I read this novelette out of the collection, The Autumn Land and Other Stories, edited by Francis Lyall. In his introduction, Lyall discusses the legacy of Simak’s piece. Upon its release in Astounding Science-Fiction, a passionate young fan of the magazine sent in a letter criticizing the story’s lack of transitions. Unlike a lot of writers, Simak reached out to the teen in hopes to learn what he found wrong and to improve his writing for the future. Upon re-reading the piece, the young man recanted his criticism and chose to adopt this style into his writing. So you may be wondering, who was this opinionated aspiring writer? Well, it was none other than an 18-year-old Isaac Asimov.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you read “Rule 18” before? Is it deserving of its win? What elements or themes did you find interesting? Or, are you just as scared about our future in an automated world like me? Whatever you want to say, please leave your comments in the space below.

See you all next time!

The version of “Rule 18” I read came from The Autumn Land and Other Stories (ISBN: 0-7493-0185-6), purchased from AbeBooks online. Published by Mandarin in 1990, this title collects together six of Clifford D. Simak’s short fiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.