Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review: Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

This is a review I probably should have written earlier since it’s going to be much harder now. Which isn’t to say that Geektastic is a forgettable book, it’s just hard to remember each and every story in the anthology (so thank you to the reviewer on Amazon who critiqued each story, really helped me out there). I did read all the stories in there but instead of reviewing each one I’ll write about the anthology as a whole and bring up the ones that illustrate my points.

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
 I like this cover quite a bit because, no those aren't the characters on the cover (although that interpretation would work in a few cases) but those are supposed to be based off of all the authors. After each story each author has a quick bio with their 8-bit avatar next to them so you can figure out whose who. Neat idea and very unique.

Summary: Various authors write about nerdy people, pursuits, and some stories that don’t seem very nerdy at all.

The Good: When most people think about something that could be called a geeky activity they probably think of online gaming, Dungeons and Dragons, or comic book reading. Some of the authors here thought outside of the box so we had stories about a baton twirler and star-gazing (which people would probably call geeky, it’s just not on the top of their list) as well as stories about LARPing and Quiz Bowls. I enjoyed all of those stories partially because of the settings but mainly because those were also the stories with the best written characters (well, the female lead in “The Stars at the Finish Line” came off as a bit tsundere but with all the anime I’ve seen that hardly bothers me anymore).  Of those authors I was only familiar with one of them (Garth Nix, who also wrote my favorite story “The Quiet Knight”) but I’ll keep any eye out for these others in the future.

The Bad: I was really disappointed by this anthology to be completely honest. I had fairly high hopes for it (after all, if you don’t like one story then you go read another one by a different author) and all the authors were being as nerdy as you can imagine in their blurbs for it. But I barely connected with any of the stories and found myself yelling at the book more often than not. No you will never find a one hundred plus group of Jedis and Klingons fighting in a con with the 501st stepping in to mediate (believe me, I go to anime cons where the maturity level is lower and that would never happen there). What was up with the story about the guy, the money, and the crazy ex on a train? I thought this was nerdy fiction, not, well, whatever the heck that was, altered sense of perception fiction? And why oh why was there romance in almost every story? In a regular YA anthology I wouldn’t expect to find romance in every single story yet I did here, why? The way I see it, geeks simply don’t care about romance quite as much as everyone else, so why did eight stories focus on romance and another four have a strong romantic theme in it? Combine that with a lot of clich├ęs (the afore mentioned Jedi/Klingon fling, “girl becomes geek and finds happiness” story, “I met someone online but there’s a problem” story happened twice) plus four that I just didn’t get and I really did not like this anthology.

The Art: Yes, I get to talk about artwork here since between every story there was a short comic done by either Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley and these comics were by far my favorite parts of the book. I enjoyed O’Malley’s more (surprising since I really didn’t like Scott Pilgrim that much) and nearly every comic of his had me giggling while agreeing at how true it was. Larson’s comics were also amusing but they didn’t connect with me as much as O’Malley’s did. I still enjoyed them more than most of the stories in the book and wish the two of them had put out an entire book of just nerdy comics instead.

One final comment on the book, since I think I already made my opinion on it clear, why no anime/manga fans? Oh sure we have one character mention Ranma ½ once (people, there were other manga in the 1980s/90s besides Ranma, but that’s actually a rant for another review) and another say that they received an anime-esque picture but that was it. And I think that sums up what I thought about most of this book, these authors just don’t get the 2000 onwards nerdom. Sure we have Trekkies and other old school fans (heck, my school has a jedi club) but you also a new generation of Whovians, a constantly changing group of otaku, gamers who play tabletop and video games, LARPers, and half a dozen other subgroups of nerds (my school also has a Quidditch team and funny enough I didn’t see any traditional fantasy/sci-fi reading geek stories in here). These authors, geeks though they may be, came off as unknowledgeable of what geeks are really like and who wants to read something by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about?