Every sports story is, at its core, a love story, and 17776 is a love story of the grandest scope.
Jon Bois’ online, serialized novella isn’t forthcoming on either front, at least on the surface level. It unfolds from an innocuous looking article entitled “What football will look like in the future” that reads like every existential football thinkpiece published in the past few years. Bois declares, “It’s clear the sport of football needs to change.” Two paragraphs in, the text of the article explodes, expanding until the entirety of the screen is swarmed with black. An image appears, with the text, “Good morning. The time is: 2:17 a.m. The date is: 3-27-43.”
That’s just the start of the weirdness.
The year is 17776. On April 7th, 2026, people stopped aging, dying, and being born. The story revolves around three sentient satellites—Pioneer 9, Pioneer 10, and the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (a.k.a JUICE)—who love football. It is equal parts bizarre, humorous, and profound.
And yes, it is a love story.
The stakes in a sports story are never low, but are also rarely on the life–or–death scale which usually makes a contest feel so pivotal, unless we’re talking Michael Jordan’s Space Jam. Money is also rarely an incentive in the end, or if it is, it’s for a larger cause, which begins to hint at the root of a sports story. From The Mighty Ducks to Field of Dreams to Rocky, sports stories are driven by some kind of love, whether it’s love for a country, a person, a team, or for the game itself.
A lot of the power of a sports story comes from the last part. Even without the emotional imperative of a sick relative or underfunded athletics program, a championship holds power. In the real world too, we've made these games, with their imaginary stakes and imaginary rules, integral, so much so that cities riot whether their teams win or lose. Every game in a sports story feels important, whether it’s the Olympics or some small local tournament—why? Why do we play, and place so much affection for things which really don’t matter? Why would we cry if a lightbulb burning since 1901 were to suddenly go out in the year 17776?
17776 interrogates these questions. It’s a love letter to humanity’s peculiarities, but it doesn’t stop there. It is rife with love, between these satellites, Nine, Ten, and Juice, and between random people who stumble upon each other by chance, and especially between humans and their games. It comes from this place of extraordinary love for human beings and humankind without diminishing the gravity of human choices.
Bois lends power to the ridiculous little ant–sized men who toss a prolate spheroid around on our television screens, even though those games of football don’t really resemble our football. They use states as endzones, or are modified versions of 500 with a 120 pound ball, or are long–distance games that turn into a glorified case of hide–and–seek, or are capitalist hellscapes stemming from a Broncos–Steelers game gone wrong, but they are still eminently relatable. Even against the stark backdrop of immortality, it’s still play.
No one article can do justice to the sheer number of topics with which 17776 wrangles. The story discusses the terrifying prospect of eternal life and the burden of productivity, and somehow, at the root of it all, it’s still a sports story. It’s about how even far into the future, we will still be playing football.
The universe tends towards lower energy, and 15000 years from now, human beings still tend towards play.
Make no mistake—17776 is not just a novella that happened to be published online, it’s a modern science fiction masterpiece built for the internet, relying on videos and gifs to tell the entire story. By some good karma, it is also entirely available to be read online, for free, an accessibility that’s becoming increasingly rare as time goes on.
In this era of isolation, this accessibility has struck a nerve in a completely new way. In the very beginning of the story, Nine, who has just woken up, is alone and terrified. They can only send messages every 11 days, and they can only receive messages from Ten every 217 days. The story at this point is told in terms of calendar pages. January ‘43, February ‘43, and on and on and on. As Nine waits—so do you—scrolling through blank pages of silence, waiting for the next message. It’s a deeply lonely experience, and I think one a lot of people can relate to.
Nine remembers nothing. A complete stranger to them says, “I love you.”
And Nine says, “I love you too.”
You can read 17776 here and its sequel 20020, currently in the process of being released, here.