Friday, August 13, 2010

Nerd fail

Last night I was reading an interview with China Miéville over at io9, and it made me wonder whether I'm a proper nerd or just a poser nerd: a dork, a dweeb; a wannerd. Wannaberd? Whatever.

China--the author who made me realize that scientists are legitimate fantasy protagonists, and with whom I am on a presumptious first-name basis--was talking about JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon, names I recognized but could not quite finger. I had to look them up to figure out that they were the minds behind various humongously name-worthy television and Hollywood productions of the speculative kind; productions I have experienced through the faculties of both vision and hearing, but never associated with personages I can wiki.

Then followed this kind of zoom-out effect where I realized I couldn't begin to grasp half, maybe even a quarter, of io9's content; and then, horrifically, I realized I have the same stuttering trouble whenever I log on to Boing Boing. To wit: I don't read comics. I rarely play videogames anymore, and I haven't roleplayed in years. Cosplay aggravates me, and I don't understand hacker culture or astrophysics. I nearly never watch movies, and, other than short fiction, I practically don't even read genre these days. The last speculative fiction novel I read was Miéville's The City & the City (which, interestingly enough, is an example of truly "speculative fiction"--as opposed to the vast expanse of urban fantasy drivel that tries to cover up its own lameness with the spec fic label). In the past month I've read a collection of absurdist literary short stories and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections; now I'm reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

I'm not saying that literary fiction is bad, and I'm not opposed to my non-nerdy pastimes. But I'm terribly afraid that I'm not nerdy enough to be a speculative fiction writer. What will they say when they realize how superficial my writing is? How it is, quite literally, uninspired? I mean, I've never even read Lord of the Rings, let alone the Foundation trilogy or... well, truth be told, just about anything that belongs to the speculative fiction canon. Over at izanobu's blog, a former Clarionite referred, in comments, to speculative fiction writers being a "tribe." I worry that, should I ever be published, the tribe will speak, and I will be voted off the island.

My failed nerdiness is compounded by the fact that, every time I play Halo 3 with my girlfriend's little brother, he creams me. Despite the fact that I, as a child, once vowed that my videogame skills would never slip, here I am, getting massacred by a ten year-old.

In my defence, in my day, we didn't have flying machines with heat-seeking missiles; heck, you were lucky to get an RPG.

I had a dream last night about a cyborg, made out of "bisodium phosphate," eating pigeons. The cyborg was asking permission to hurry up and eat those pigeons. I hope that gives me a little spec fic street cred, because my book shelf, my DVD collection, and my (empty) miniatures display case won't get me very far.



  1. Yeah, but you've got to realize that there are several species of nerds in the world. For example, I LOVE David Gemmell and Ursula K. Le Guin, but I don't know much about media SF (beyond who Joss Whedon is). I love space opera but I'm not too hot on short stories, and while I love a lot of the classic RPGs (FF4, FF6, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, FF Tactics), I'm not a tabletop gamer at all.

    I believe there was a discussion about this on a while ago--about the branching out of nerdom into several different fields, and the fact that nerds of one type find it difficult to connect with nerds of another. I guess the key is to choose your passion and stick with it.

    The only thing that stands out to me as a red flag from your post is that you aren't reading very widely. If you want to be a writer, that definitely is a must. I read about twenty novels a year and that's far too little.

  2. All players I encounter online during the occasion that I pop in Halo 3 -- about twice a year, now :-( -- are invariably small, young children. And they're all freakishly skilled at action video games. They literally live, I believe, to "stick," "board," and "p0Wn" you. *Sigh.*

    As for geek cred, this is something I've felt insecure about a time or two as well. For one, I'd argue, it's a hillarious thing to feel insecure about. Secondly, I don't think that roleplaying is a requisite for being create -- inspiring, maybe, but inspiration is everywhere.

    It's hard to find time for the ol' Xbox in adult life. But when you do, it's so much sweeter, and the open-world, free roam games available now (Red Dead Redemption rules!) are excellent playgrounds for the imagination.

    I'll second the notion that reading widely, and as often as possible, is a big must. My personal method has been to read the first in any important series, such as the first Foundation and Ender's Game.

    I am also guilty of having bought, but not yet read, The Lord of the Rings. Worst crimes have been committedly, sure, but it is probably required reading for fantasy writers.

  3. I'm going to point out that my problem is reading widely, since that may not have been clear in the post. In the last two months I've been reading genre 'zines, literary novels, and nonfiction texts. My "worry," which is a sarcastic one (apparently I need to work on my blog writing), stems from the fact that most writers have a shared corpus of speculative fiction background, whereas I read mostly modern "weird" fiction like Jeff Vandermeer, Steph Swainston, and China Miéville.

    Undoubtedly, however, I read far less than most writers appear to.


  4. Philip K. Dick is my all-time favorite science fiction writer, and he read mostly classic literature/literary novels. If you ask me, there's really no requirement that says SF/F writers _have_ to read anything. It's more a matter of filtering out ideas that are obvious, and therefore likely to have "been done."

    I'd say if anything, reading literary novels will only give you a big leg up on the competition.

    It also keeps people from resorting to imitation, something most early writers (i.e. me) are occasionally prone to. What literary novels teach better than genre novels, generally, is a profound sense of theme and atmosphere, and also great writing in general.

    The main thing is you're reading.

    And if it's any consolation, you're one of the geekiest dudes I know, man! Geek on!

  5. Hahaha! Thanks Alex. All I wanted was a geek-hug!


  6. If you're reading "A Confederacy of Dunces", you don't need Nerd Cred. But I'm just saying that because that is hands-down my favorite novel.

  7. Among my friends, we actually refer to "nerds" as people who have multiple and deep varying interests and "geeks" as people who have deeply invested in only one or a very few interests.
    The details vary by nerd and geek, clearly :)

    As for a "tribe"... publishing is, ultimately, a business, and what other writers think is kinda neither here nor there on your work as long as A)there's an audience for it and b)...oh wait, no really, A is what matters. As awesome as it would be to have another spec fic author read a book of mine and love it, all I really care about as pro is if I can sell books first to editors and from there to readers. (and in this day and age, directly to readers if I want).

    So a lot of the "tribe" stuff is really navel gazing. Don't sweat it. :)

    And hey, now you know who Joss Whedon is. You edumacated yourself. That's kinda nerdy ;)

  8. I am nothing if not a sucker for highly articulated categorizations. My question now is whether you have standards for "dweebs" and "dorks."

    Thanks for the cheering words!


  9. We do, in fact, have one for dorks. I should be nice, however, and not repeat it on the internet ;) Let's just say that's the word we use for the less socialized, un-hygenic, annoying types of the above...