Small Stories, Big Worlds

Jon Bois is the creative director of SB Nation and co-creator of Secret Base. He’s known for video series like The History of the Atlanta Falcons and Fighting in the Age of Loneliness. He’s a sports writer.

In 2017 he published 17776, a multi-media serialized work of speculative fiction that envisions football 15,000 years in the future. It’s been called “a crash course in empathy,” “surprisingly profound,” and won a National Magazine Award.

The world-building in the story is nothing short of ambitious. In 2026, every human stops aging, dying, and being born. They’re immortal.

To stave off boredom, people play football games that can last for centuries on fields hundreds, or even thousands, of miles long. The narrators of the story are the sentient space probes Pioneer 9, Pioneer 10, and the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (he goes by Juice).

Again: Jon is a sports writer.

The world centers around football, but it’s extensive and complex. Bois attempts to answer the bigger question: what has humanity done in 15,000 years? But he doesn’t provide any big answers. Instead, he answers that question with small moments throughout the story.

Moments like:

  • A perpetually 70-year-old woman (and one of the best football players in the nation) reflecting on her deceased grandfather’s “Go Browns” neon light, thousands of years after his death. (The Browns have still never won a Super Bowl.)
  • A somber eulogy for a light bulb first installed in 1901 that had stayed lit, alone, for thousands of years before being destroyed by an errant football.
  • A character laughing as she remembers the time she rented an apartment, only to realize a month later she had previously lived there.

The New Yorker described 17776, saying, “despite its seemingly meagre parts, [it is] a thing of startling beauty.” As large as the story seems, it was the small moments that let the story truly come alive.

In our creative endeavors, we try to build something big, daring, and new. The thrill of creativity comes from making something the world has never seen before.

But in our hurry to craft this new world (say, one with sentient space probes) if we focus on the bigness, and ignore the small—the personal and relatable—we’re likely to end up with something large in scope, but lacking in soul.

17776 resonates more than a simple futurism story about football because it is driven by the human element. No time is spent on how humans became immortal. Instead, we see people using that immortality to watch Law & Order on a perpetual loop.

Bois takes deep, but personal, concepts like loneliness, boredom, and empathy to craft a treatise on what it means to be human. In doing so, he justifies creating an expansive world thousands of years in the future.

When you focus on the core, basic truth of your world, brand, or viewpoint, you too can grow it into something truly inspiring.

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