Contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor, writer, and speculative fiction enthusiast.
Right around the turn of the New Year in 2011, Patton Oswalt wrote a piece for WIRED magazine in connection with his very funny book, Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland. He suggested that geek culture is dead. He said that because what we used to perceive as geek culture—comics, obsessions with rare movies or television shows, and science fiction and fantasy in general—has now reached the mainstream, there needs to be a realignment our fandom. He suggests that some fantastical, self-referential implosion of geek interests might open the way for a new era in fandom, but that isn’t realistic, at least not as he describes it. Further, I’m not sure he is exactly right, but he makes some funny observations on the way toward understanding what geek culture is.
The point being, Geek culture is no longer fringe. Geek speak is finding its way into the dialogue of mainstream television shows. In fact, The Big Bang Theory is a primetime TV show about geeks! It’s even invading the hallowed world of poetry with the celebrated collection titled Alien vs. Predator. I could list examples all day. It’s here. Geek culture is now.
It’s hard to learn that something you thought was unique to you and your friends has been co-opted by everyone else. But it’s also wonderful to be part of something bigger—to know that there are many, many more people out there with the same tastes as you. That’s why I love books so much. It’s the best of both worlds. Liking a book or an author, especially a popular one, means that you have something in common with a lot of people, but that group is restricted to those who read. And, believe it or not, there aren’t a ton of people in this country or the world who really enjoy reading, let alone reading SF.
We are an exclusive bunch, and, try as they might, the corporate fiends who hope dull our hearts and minds with a desire to consume will never be able to make readers into a single-minded plague of locust intent on stripping the field of literature bare.
Alas, science fiction might tell us otherwise. The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross tell the story of a post-singularity future in which technology has become self-aware, forming a sort of superbrain in the clouds, a data entity to which much of the population has uploaded their consciousness. Those left behind—it’s unclear whether they’re readers, I must confess—find themselves available for a jury on new technologies. They must decide which new wonders to unleash on the world.
Talk about stripping bare the field of literature, Doctorow and Stross fill this book with so many strange ideas and images that one wonders what is left in their wake. It is a paen to the post-human world, literary mash-ups, and a gift to SF geeks everywhere.
Another book that salutes geek culture is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The heart of the novel is a quest to solve the riddles of an eccentric billionaire and uncover fortune and power. The body of the novel is made up of hundreds of different parts, all of them seemingly a reference to the wonder and obbsessions of 80s fandom. Cline gave us a novel about what he loves, and it’s hard not to love it with him.
Reading and sharing these books gives us an opportunity to develop community. There are some things that people who don’t read will never get. For them, there is TV, the entire internet, the movie theater with it’s sticky floors and text-happy teens.
For us, there are amazing novels like Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love, the story of a circus sideshow family and their meglomanical leader Arty. Telekinesis, conjoined twins, a cult of personality… It’s a very hard book to summarize in a few sentences, so I won’t try. Suffice it to say that it’s not for everyone, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless I knew you could handle it.
There are some things that will never make it to the mainstream. Happily, science fiction and fantasy books will always be a niche interest. If not, it’s an affirmation that we had it right the whole time. Geek culture is dead: long live geek culture.