I’ll be very upfront: I am not a sports fan. British or American, team or solo, ball-based or whatever the other kind is, none of it does anything for me. I don’t watch the Olympics, I don’t follow the World Cup, and I genuinely could not tell you anything about the Superbowl – apart from that there’s been a lot of them and they have adverts. It could be baseball. I really don’t know.
Which is why it’s remarkable that something entitled ‘What will football look like in the future?’ should be so god damn enthralling to me. This is your first (but not last) opportunity to click this link right here and go and read it now, because from hereon we’re in spoiler town. But only in the outskirts. We’re checking out the spoiler town suburbs for now.
What I can tell you about 17776 without giving away too much of its extremely unique concept is that it has far less to do with American football than its subtitle implies, and yet is completely built around it. It’s also pretty much impossible to pin down a genre or medium you could reasonably put this in – although personally, I would call it a hypercomic, which is to say it’s sort of a webcomic that fully utilises the multimedia capabilities of the online form. Think Homestuck, but also not. You see my problem.
But that doesn’t really do it justice either. It’s a sci-fi epic. It’s sports commentary. It’s a philosophical doctrine and a tragedy in super slow motion. And here is where we reach spoiler warning number two, wherein I prompt you to click this link and see what I mean, because we’re heading into spoiler town centre now and everything below this is best read after you’ve seen it for yourself.
Still with me? Or just finished reading? Good, now we’re on the same page. What makes Bois’ idiosyncratic masterpiece-in-progress unique is, of course, what makes it so hard to explain, but I’m happy to assume that even if you’re not quite as mad for it as I am, you can at least appreciate what I’m talking about. The project began on the 6th of July, and has been releasing pages daily since, up to the 15th when it’s scheduled to end.
In that time, Bois has taken us through his fantastical, not-quite-apocalyptic vision of the distant year 17776, more than 15,000 years after the human race spontaneously became infertile and immortal. Yet the human characters of the story are in fact the backdrop: the narrative is related through three space probes that have shared that immortality and whittled away the millennia watching the incessant and increasingly elaborate football games played by the perpetually bored denizens of planet Earth.
It’s a sci-fi epic. It’s sports commentary. It’s a philosophical doctrine and a tragedy in super slow motion.
What I love about 17776 (in addition to its flawless, keep-you-guessing pacing and its hauntingly beautiful writing) is the pervasive sense of futility driving, or failing to drive, the planet Earth in this future. Humanity has reached out to the stars and found nothing. They’ve reached the peak of technological progress, and taken a step backwards, finding life without struggle to be a walking coma. They’ve invented themselves into obsolescence and decided to spend eternity with feet planted on good old familiar terra firma. And why?
Because there’s nothing else to do. Bois confronts a situation rarely seen in science fiction, and does so comprehensively and intelligently. A stagnant utopia – where no-one can be hurt, no-one can die, and every desire there is has already been sated – finds itself reduced to meaningless, absurdist football games until… well, who knows what? Until the sun swallows the Earth? Would that even stop them?
17776 is built as much on the unanswered questions as the answered ones. We don’t know when the human race’s time is up. Neither do Nine, Ten or Juice, the celestial spectators of the infinite games, who alternate between nihilist philosophy and lamenting the passing of fucking lightbulbs and Lunchables, of all things. More than once I’ve laughed out loud reading this story, and more than once I’ve been brought close to tears by the sheer sadness resonating from the hopeless universe Nine awakens to find itself in.
It’s also about the little stories along the way, which is where the world gets most of its detailing and humanising. A favourite example is Ed Krieger, the cave-dwelling football player who planted himself in his childhood playground to hide for ten thousand years. To Ed, novelty and intrigue are finite resources on an infinite timeline, and so he dedicates himself to taking life as slowly as he can, squeezing every last drop of joy out of the things he has yet to fully experience. It’s truly fascinating to see the coping mechanisms and personal rationalisations of the inhabitants of Bois’ world, who can no longer wonder after great pursuits or panic about what to do with their remaining time. Life without a deadline, it seems, is no life at all.
17776 is built as much on the unanswered questions as the answered ones. We don’t know when the human race’s time is up.
Which is not to say it’s exclusively pessimistic. The probes and humans alike are all happy enough to while away eternity with their hobbies and routines, knowing they’ll never need to fear or worry again. It’s a purgatory paradise, an emotionally-complex limbo in which there are no clear answers, and above all a wonderfully unique insight into the things that really matter to people when needs and scarcity are stripped away. As it turns out, what matters is a whole lot of football.
Jon Bois’ 17776 finishes in a couple of days, which – with its short chapters that’ll only take a few minutes to read each – is more than enough time to get yourself caught up if you still haven’t done so. Put on your favourite spacey, mellow music (Beach House worked great for me; you might have your own preferences), close your social media tabs for half an hour, and get lost in the narrative as Bois pulls you into his melancholic, hilarious, fascinating, claustrophobic little world.