EP152: The Big Guy

By Mike Resnick.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, June 2007.
All stories by Mike Resnick.
All stories read by Stephen Eley.

“Okay,” said Fishbait. He tossed a ball to the Big Guy.
“Let’s try a little one-on-one. Ralph, let’s see what you can do
against Jacko here.”

The Big Guy took a look at me, his face totally
expressionless. I moved forward to lean on him a little, just
enough to make contact and see which way he was going to move
when he began his drive to the basket, but before I got close enough
to touch him he’d already raced by me and stuffed the ball through
the hoop.

“Again,” said Fishbait.

Rated R. Contains strong language and testosterone.

Today’s Sponsor:
Infected by Scott Sigler

Referenced Events:
Penguicon: April 18-20, 2008
Sex 2.0: April 12, 2008

Comments (22)

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  1. V says:

    Ok, the robot isn’t the most realistic ever, nor are the actions of the NBA or whatever it is, or for that matter the center who got displaced (I say this halfway through). Any center nowadays who wasn’t ridiculously, unnaturally calm, would quit in a rage. There would be walkouts, lockouts, you get the idea.

    And I say that as someone who doesn’t really follow basketball, except to talk with my Dad (well, and learned some terms ten years ago on the court at high school lunch hour, when all the boys were nuts for the Knicks).
    Then again, I’ve seen the Red Sox and the Indians (sigh) and all of them throw enough hissy fits to think that’s a cross sport thing…

    But it doesn’t matter. As someone who can just about follow this story, even a non sports fan, I’m not bored or offended yet.

    Score a layup for Resnick; its not a nothing but net, but it isn’t a brick.

    As to NASCAR….well, I have watched it. In fact, I saw a pretty nasty accident once. So I feel free to characterize it as a vouyeristic reckless redneck pseudo-sport almost on par with bullfighting….at least they aren’t killing cows. Just polluting the atmosphere . . .

  2. Mari Mitchell says:

    I think a lot of SF fans do not “sports” because we do not participate in them. And when we do they tend to be odd… Fencing, jousting, robot fighting, ect.

    We imagine for us it is not shooting hops.

    We like things the strange, the more than what it seems, the what ifs. It reflects who we are on the inside, down deep where it counts.

    Plus I think a great deal of us suck at them and were set apart for it. If you embrace what makes you different instead of drowning in, you float. Some of us float all the way up to the stars.

    It seems that sports are more of the body and bound a little more earth bound.

    I am sure sports will always be a part of us. We are too engrained to compete and take sides to not have it. It is perhaps the only healthy way to do so.

    The story reminded of a TZ. It would have made a great episode.

    Like all good robot stories, it did harkens back to Asimov. What makes us human.

    As I understood that “The Big Guy” needed to learn, and was receiving emotions, doing well, I figured he would throw the last game. Not that it took away from the story. After all, it is equally the journey not only the destination.

  3. logopetria says:

    I was expecting more from a Mike Resnick story (or from an Escape Pod story, for that matter). He seemed to be setting us up for a straightforward “robot encounters emotions” story, and I assumed he must be about to throw in a twist somewhere… but no. It really was just a “robot encounters emotions” story, of the sort we’ve seen a million times before. This might have made a fun Data subplot for Star Trek 20 years ago — has it really been so long? — but today this ground feels far too obvious and well-trodden to be worth half an hour’s set-up.

  4. AmberBug says:

    Ok- I liked this! I also don’t really follow sports. Don’t hate ’em just don’t follow them. I liked the charactor development. And it was.. I dunno.. I wanna say ironic or something. Sports sci fi. Who’d a thunk it.

  5. […] Free fiction:”The Troll” by T.H. White (1935). [via Jeffrey Ford]Tor’s latest freebie is Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold. (Freebie wallpaper this week includes Stanley Meltzoff’s painting for the 1952 edition of The Green Hills of Earth by Robert A. Heinlein and Gregory Manchess’ painting, Something Wicked, for the Spectrum 10 Call for Entries poster.)The Ranch” by Gary Gibson, a vampire story. [via Peripheral Vision]SFF Audio rounds up a slew of John Kessel audio-stories.Escape Pod podcasts Mike Resnick’s “The Big Guy”. […]

  6. frostsfire says:

    And Fencing is a geek sport because….?

  7. mrgoldenbrown says:

    fencing is a geek sport because it is related to fantasy roleplaying games.

  8. Chris in Austin says:

    I found it interesting that NASCAR doesn’t allow fuel injection systems in their cars for the philosophical reason that they don’t want “computers” in their cars.

    Since sports are somewhat contrived anyways I am not sure this particular story packed that much sci-fi punch for me. I am not sure the theme of robot discovering emotion was that well developed either.

  9. Void Munashii says:

    Having just recently listened to “Barnaby In Exile” again, I was worried that you were going to try and make me cry on my way to work when I heard it was a Resnick story. I was releived to find a much lighter story.

    I was not thrilled by this story, but I was entertained, which is the point, right? I did find the ending fairly predictable; once we got to the free throw line, I knew what was going to happen and why. It’s a well worn plot dressed up in a basketball uniform, but there is not a lot of originality left out there anyway, and at least this was an entertaining spin on it.

    BTW: I picked up ‘Infected’, and I want to thank you for introducing me to Mr. Sigler’s work. If not for Escape Pod, I may never have heard of him.

  10. DaveNJ says:

    Well, apparently I’m the only big basketball fan here. I love sci-fi, but I also love sports. From participating in youth hockey to sitting in the front row at the Pavilion as a member of the Nova Nation (Sweet 16 baby!) to listening to Escape Pod weekly I just don’t see why I can’t have it all. I understand that some sci-fi fans aren’t into sports, but I hate the generalizations that tend to turn these things into cycles, as opposed to individual peccadillos. I don’t know how it started, but apparently now sports and sci-fi are irreconcilable in the eyes of a bunch of people, and that’s a shame.

    I loved Scott Sigler’s “The Rookie”, and I really liked this story. It was fun, it incorporated a bunch of different aspects without shoving them down the listener’s throats, and the story is well-plotted, albeit a bit predictable. Oddly prescient, though, as Memphis just lost the NCAA championship on three bricked FT’s in the final minute and a half to send the game to OT.

    I dunno, I just don’t see why I can’t have it all, sports and sci-fi and all the other stuff that we apparently have ingrained into us now that makes it an “us and them” mentality. I mean, I listened to 52 episodes of Escape Pod last year, and attended about two dozen college basketball games. I’ll take the whole pie, please.

    And if you think basketball isn’t part of “the strange” try watching some old Youtube footage of guys like Earl Monroe. There’s beauty, eloquence, and oddness in everything if you’re willing to look.

  11. Shinster says:

    I first fell in love with sci-fi/fantasy when I was a geeky nerd in middle school reading Asimov, Bradbury, and Clark (the “A,B,C’s” of Sci-Fi), while playing D&D with my friends and going to the occasional Star Trek convention.

    As I grew older my love of sports developed and I am now a “nerdy sports nut.” I’m a fellow Philadelphian along with “Dave NJ” and fondly remember watching Penn and Drexel games at the Pavilion, along with the Sixers and Eagles down at the Sports Complex.

    This story is like the blending of two different worlds for me and Steve nailed it on the head when he said that they are both forms of escape from our ordinary lives. We watch outstanding stories develop from extraordinary situations by people with amazing abilities.

    I loved this story as a whole, but I did find the ending to be a bit predictable and I agree with “logopetria” with they said the story has been done a million times before. Other than that I enjoyed this story very much and I can’t wait to hear more stories about clashing worlds.

  12. Pete S says:

    “From participating in youth hockey to sitting in the front row at the Pavilion as a member of the Nova Nation (Sweet 16 baby!) to listening to Escape Pod weekly I just don’t see why I can’t have it all.”

    Eventually you can’t have it all due to time constraints. For instance I do enjoy pro football, so during the fall my sci-fi consuming takes a huge hit since I’m spending 6+ hours/week of my free time watching football.

    You can skim everything, but there are only so many hours in a life, and there isn’t time to be a deep consumer of everything.

    Anyway, on to the story…

    I didn’t hate it, but found it hard to relate to it. I dislike basketball, for starters. And I found it odd that the displaced center was so calm about being benched, but then so very angry about losing the championship.

    I thought the idea that the robot/android manufacturers were using basketball as a ‘test bed’ for their devices was pretty neat. But I thought the idea that you could introduce these players into a couple of teams without a lot more social uproar wasn’t too realistic.

    Anyway, I’d have to rate this one as “ok”.

    And Steve, I don’t think you needed to do your ‘deep voice’ through the whole story. That musta hurt after a while!

  13. ADerksen says:

    Dave, you’re not the only sports-fan out here. I was actually glad to see some science-fiction delve into an arena that is traditionally “geek free”, because let’s face it: no sport is truly geek free. The two are not mutually exclusive: there are a lot of us who do watch football or basketball, and some of us even participated in those sports. Besides, if you love statistics, then you probably loved sports long before you got your hands on a copy of the “Monster Manual”.

  14. Audita Sum says:

    I actually like sports when I don’t have to play them. Robots, strangely, bother me in fiction. This story just… didn’t do anything for me.

  15. PK says:

    didn’t Rod Serling do this story 40 years ago?

  16. Norm says:

    Have to agree with the main feeling here that this is a good, not a great story. Not the most original idea and not realistic: 4 teams get robots and the others don’t, they’d be a riot in real life. Reminds me a lot of “Vanilla Dunk” a novelette story in an old Asimov’s I read a few months ago about a future NBA that uses power suits that mimic the skill sets of old NBA players like Jordan and Bird. The main character there is actually hindered by his suit and has a feud with a young arrogant white jerk that has the Jordan skill set. That was a better story than this solid, but unremarkable story.

  17. Rusty says:

    I enjoyed this story primarily because I really liked its ending, which I won’t spoil for anybody who hasn’t listened yet. I did find the idea that there wouldn’t be more of a public outcry over robots in the NBA to be implausible, but whatever.

    I am an avid sports fan and sports blog reader, and I agree with you that sports fans and sci-fi geeks often have a lot more in common with each other than maybe they realize. I mean, it’s pretty geeky to pore over statistics for eight hours to search for patterns to prove some abstract theory about why one team or another has been better over the past 40 years. Its similarly geeky for a couple of sci-fi fans to argue about a paradox in a time travel story.

  18. Daniel Cotton says:

    Well I know plenty of nerdy people who play sport. I’m one of them – hell, we have a team! (And it’s not a reality TV show.) Actually I even know some nerds who are really good at sport.

    And just for good measure Australia’s most successful Olympic track athlete of all time, Shirley Strickland-De la Hunty was a nuclear scientist and lecturer by occupation.

    The reason we don’t see a lot of traditional sport (as opposed to Rocket racing leagues) is that there’s not a lot of new ground to explore with it. Non sci-fi sports movies/stories are pretty formulaic. Adding a sci-fi component doesn’t give you much more scope. Sci-fi is about exploring ideas, it’s pretty hard to do that within the confines of a sports story.

    Having said that the story was entertaining if predictable. Perhaps that has to do with the reading. I think Steve’s reading has improved more than is obvious from the earlier EPs. Kudos Steve.

  19. Mitch says:

    Re: Geeks & Sports – As a kid, I was smaller and less self confident than all of the other kids. Sports were a sure fire way for me to get hurt physically & emotionally. Getting called “shrimp” multiple times a day, for years on end, doesn’t help get a kid into sports. That and I was never any good at them.

    My experience with sports (and the larger bullies in school) drove me toward being a geek. My C=64 was a safe place. A place of no judgments, and no failure. A place where I could succeed, and be in charge. My “Mapping The Commodore 64” book was the happiest book I owned as a kid.

    To this day, I have a strong distaste for sports in schools. Aren’t schools for teaching, not entertainment and excercise? How much money is spent on the football program vs. basic reading skills?

    Anyway, I have a better job than those bullies now. Many of them are unemployed & unskilled as the U.S. auto industry self destructs. So in the long term, I win. 🙂

    Re: the story – OK, I guess. I just couldn’t get past the premise that the most sophisticated robots on the planet would be put into the NBA. Or that the NBA would allow it. Strange premise, OK story.

  20. Daniel Cotton says:

    Hey Mitch,

    I was a small kid at school too (come to think of it I’m still small). But I liked sports. Not because I was immediately good at them. In fact the opposite was true. However, what made me a nerd was the dedication I applied to my school work. I found that by applying the same dedication to sport I could improve and compete with those bigger kids. In time I represented the school at Athletics, Soccer, Indoor Cricket, Softball and Touch Football. I wasn’t the best player on the team but it was still fun. What I was best at was Long distance running because it was 50% fitness and 50% determination. But sports are good because they have rules and us nerds are good at exploiting rules.

    Sports definitely have their place in schools. They encourage exercise and the U.S. and Australia could certainly use more of the ‘exercise is good’ message going to our kids.

    The ancient Greeks believed strongly in the synthesis of mind and body. Both were held in high regard. There are figures that show that kids that participate in sport perform better in class. And of course if you have a healthy body then your mind can work more effectively.

    Additionally it is worth noting that Sport is really the only way that boys get any sort of positive feedback about their body image. It is important for our health and longevity that we look after our bodies and we are more inclined to do that if we have a positive body image.

    Girls can receive positive feedback about their bodies from other sources as well. However it would probably be better socially if more of that came because of their sporting abilities.

    Perhaps these ideas are worth pursuing further. Someone might want to write an SF story about a world with no sport.

    Long post short: Sport is good for body and mind.

  21. Mike says:

    I guess this is a little late, but I just listened to this over my lunch break. I don’t care that it was predictable or that the background was basketball. I really liked this story because it made me laugh out loud in several parts. To bad it’s rated R, my kids would love this story.

  22. […] emotionally immature robots. Escape Pod’s first story of April, Mike Resnick’s “The Big Guy” (read by Stephen Eley), explores such robotic implications against the background of […]