Aug 13, 2009

Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

As the title indicates, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd is a collection of short stories that celebrate geekiness in its many forms. The list of contributors includes names like John Green, David Levithan, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Kelly Link, Scott Westerfeld and M.T. Anderson - you can see a full list of contributors here.

There are stories about Star Trek geeks, about Buffy geeks, about science and astronomy and dinosaur geeks. There are MMORPGs, live action RPGs, quizz shows, comics, weekly costumed sessions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, conventions, reclusive fantasy writers and their fans, and the list goes on. The anthology has a total of fifteen stories, so I'd probably bore you if I told you about them all in detail. Instead, I'll highlight a few that stood out for me:

My absolute favourite was "The Starts at the Finish Line" by Wendy Mass (an author I hadn't read before but must read again.) The narrator, Peter, has had a silent competition going with the other really smart kid in class, Tabitha Bell, since fourth grade. Back then, both of them said they wanted to be astronauts, and, well, NASA only hires the absolute best. So since then, they've both been trying very hard to be the best. In all these years they've only exchanged a few words, but one day,they go to together to a Messier Marathon - an all-night astronomy session in which they're supposed to spot 110 deep-sky objects.

It's not hard to guess that their rivalry will turn into something entirely different, but the romance, if predictable, is still very well done, and the story is smart, sweet and fun. Also, it's full of little astronomy facts, and astronomy is awesome. It made me want to go to the middle of nowhere and watch the night sky. It made watch yesterday's meteor shower with extra gusto (I only spotted two, but it was nice anyway).

My second favourite story was, unsurprisingly, John Green's "Freak the Geek". Lauren and her best friend Kayley go to Hoover Preparatory School for Girls, in which Freak the Geek is a remarkably stupid tradition, even for a school tradition. Basically, the whole school picks a geek or two to harass en masse, and this year Lauren and Kayley are the lucky ones. I absolutely loved the story's final paragraph:
There's a single lipstick-red splotch of paintball goo on the front frill of my car. It doesn't wash off for months, but I don't mind. It is not my scarlet letter. It's theirs.
Other highlights were "Quix Bowl Antichrist" by David Levithan - I love how he makes the same-sex romance sound so natural - "Secret Identity" by Kelly Link, and "It's Just a Jump to the Left" by Libba Bray. These last two were quite sad. The stories all had different emotional tones, which makes sense as there are several different ways of being a geek - just like there were several different ways of being a person. But I liked the fact that even if a few of the stories are sad, the tone of the anthology truly is celebratory - these geeks feel comfortable in their own skins. They're not poor little misfits whose greatest dream is to be popular. They're too busy caring about things that go beyond high school popularity.

As with all anthologies, I liked some stories better than others, but the only one I seriously disliked was "The Truth about Dino Girl" by Barry Lyga. I really want to explain why, but to do so will involve spoilers, so read the rest of this paragraph and the next one at your own risk. The story is about a geeky girl, Katherine aka Katya, who takes revenge on a popular, pretty girl, Andi. Andi treats everyone who isn't "cool" enough for her like crap. I think prank stories can be fun, but the way in which this was done really disturbed me: Katya and her best friend take a picture of Andi naked in the locker room, photoshop the background out and add in a "sleazy hotel room", add captions like "Do you like sex? She does!!!! Call Andi!", and anonymously distribute it to the whole school. As this is irrefutable evidence that Andi is "a slut", her boyfriend (on whom Katya has a crush) breaks up with her, her friends shun her, and we last see her eating lunch on her own. A triumphant end - geek girl wins the day.

No, I am not kidding. What bothered me was not that this episode was included in the story, but that this was done completely unquestioningly. We are expected to sympathize with Katya and cheer along with her when she brings Andi down. The story never pauses to question the use of a teen girl's sexuality against her, or what the wider implications of ruining a girl's reputation by branding her a "slut" are. This really, really upset me. Try as I might, I'm unable to take something like this lightly, or to see any humour in it. No one, no matter how arrogant and mean they are, deserves something like this. It does every teen girl, every woman, a huge disservice.

Okay, rant over. Barry Lyga story aside, Geektastic was amazing - as the title promises, both geeky and fantastic. Because my copy was an ARC I won from Lenore, it didn't include Sara Zarr's short story, which wasn't ready in time. Also, the stories are alternated by mini-comics by awesome couple Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, but the ARC only includes Hope Larson's illustrations. I may have shed a tear or two over this, but hey, I was going to buy a finished copy anyway. This is just one extra reason to do so.

Even though I know next to nothing about Star Trek, have never watched Buffy (I know), and have equally limited knowledge in several other areas of geekiness, I could still really related to most of these characters: they are passionate and enthusiastic, and they're not afraid to show it. This John Green video explains why being a geek is awesome better than I could, so I'll leave you with it:



Other Opinions:
Presenting Lenore
Zoe's Book Reviews
A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Reading Rants!
The Chick Manifesto
Janicu's Book Blog
YAnnabe

(Did I miss yours?)

47 comments:

  1. Hm, I have an ARC of this sitting around somewhere. I was afraid to read it, but it sounds great.

    Also thanks for the John Green vid. New favorite.

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  2. Scott Westerfeld's talked about this a couple times on his blog, and even pointed out which of those guys on the cover is him. :)

    I've never seen John Green's videos like that one. I cracked up the whole time. He was so awesome! I love it! Maybe if I'd seen some of these, I would have understood his voice better in Katherines. How strange. I need to find more of those videos.

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  3. What a fascinating idea for an anthology! Going on the list!

    It doesn't surprise me that there were hits and misses in this, it is the rare anthology that has hit after hit after hit.

    I completely understand what you are saying about the story you didn't care for. I had the same issue with the novel I just reviewed. Sometimes there are things that just don't sit right with us and it is our responsibility to just be honest about those things in our reviews. I really appreciate what you wrote about that one and if I do snag the anthology from the library I'm not sure I would even want to read that one.

    Great review Nymeth.

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  4. While this is not a genre that I normally read, I was immediately drawn to the great title! Your fantastically thorough review is sure to attract more readers who like this subject matter. Great job!

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  5. Oh good lord, that's one of my favourite John Green videos. I always, always crack up when he gets to the part about wondering if 'corndogs' constitute a 'substance' or not and his excitement about Perez Hilton. Also, the word 'nerdmance' cracks me up. I'm seriously in love with both John and Hank Green. Simultaneously.

    Oh, a tear came to my eye as I was giggling about that video.

    Book sounds great. Would love to read it. I have a newfound crush on David Levithan after reading Boy Meets Boy this week and another book of his last month.

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  6. I don't usually like short stories, but these sound so good. Husb and I have been watching the complete series of a tv show "Freaks and Geeks" on dvd lately, and your review so reminded me of it. So good!

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  7. The book sounds fun, but I'm more just in awe of the video :) I love the part about how nerds just get to be unabashedly in love with things -- that's probably my favorite thing about being a dork.

    Kim

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  8. Thanks for mentioning this. It sounds interesting and fun!

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  9. This one just moved to the top of my geektastically long TBR list. Power to the geek!

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  10. OK firstly, how have you of all people never watched Buffy?!? You need to get on the Joss Whedon bandwagon and really embrace your inner fantasy/sci-fi/vampire geekiness. Next time you are in the UK I am kidnapping you and making you watch at least the first series of Buffy!

    This sounds like a great anthology. I can see your point about the Barry Lyga story although I think everyone fantasises about doing something similar to those who have hurt you. I nearly did something similar to an ex boyfriend once minus the nudity...

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  11. My family is totally geeky, so I will be looking for this book!

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  12. Just knowing Holly Black had something to do with it, would make me want to read it. I love her books.

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  13. Geektastic sounds fantastic! I don't like Buffy much, but my brother and his wife sure do.

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  14. I am so kicking myself for not buying this this past weekend when I saw it!!! I love that science geeks are included...I happen to be quite fond of a VERY big science geek myself.

    I do think I'll skip the Lyga story though. That seriously makes me both sad and angry. Since when do two horrible wrongs make a right? That is NOT a practical joke...that is criminal.

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  15. I went to the Geektastic party at BEA (don't hit me!) but still haven't read it! I will bump it up and maybe skip Lyga's story. ;)

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  16. Never seen Buffy either... ;).

    It's interesting, the objectifying you brought up, because it's something I've been thinking about lately. I can't speak for all branches of Geekery out there, but in the computer geek world (especially programming) where I'm more familiar, sexism is rampant, ugly, and kind of unsettling. For instance, a few months ago, at a major conference of Ruby language programmers, a big name in the community did a presentation on his new product, featuring pretty demeaning images of women from pornography (not naked, but still), on each frame, and seemed to be completely baffled as to why anyone would be offended. It's somewhat telling that, at said conference, out of a few thousand attendees, there were (I believe) less than five women. People wonder why girls don't grow up to work in technical fields... sigh.

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  17. Ah, looks like we had similar opinions on the favorites. The Dino Girl story left me going: WTF, am I the only one thinking her revenge was totally crossing a line? I feel better that I am not.

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  18. Off topic, but I'm very much looking forward to your "currently reading" selections.

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  19. My anniversary is next week, and I think I'm going to get this for my husband...and then read it myself.

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  20. I completely agree with your objections to that one story; there are ways to make a point, and ways that go overboard. That author went overboard. Too bad, because otherwise the book sounds like fun...

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  21. Hehe, this sounds so cute! Thanks for the review!

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  22. Totally need to read this. You need to read Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. I adore her as a writer. :) Thanks for the review.

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  23. Hmm, I don't know about this one. I heart geeks, but what you said about Lyga's story gives me pause. That's the kind of thing that would drive me insane.

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  24. An anthology about geeks! Sounds like a fun read to me!!

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  25. Awesome, I'm like you, I know nothing about Star Trek, haven't watched Buffy. So I was a little hesistant whereas this book was considered. But I think I just might give this book a try.

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  26. The collection sounds great (with the one exception you noted)! I was definitely in "that crowd" growing up. Now I'm an engineer, author, and skydiver. I moved to a foreign country, learned the language, and drive a German car. It's doubtful that most of the people who picked on me have such an exciting life now. Geeks rule!

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  27. This sounds fantastic! I'm off to order it right now! And - you've never seen Buffy??? You'd LOVE Buffy!! :-)

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  28. I usually don't read anthologies but this one sounds neat. If anything yay for geeking out about geeky stuff.

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  29. This sounds fantastic. I read a Graphic novel that was put together by quite a few different authors/artists all about their experiences in Middle School. Loved it and this one sounds pretty good as well!!

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  30. I'm sure geeks all over the world appreciate that collection! ;) I've read a few of Wendy Mass's books; she's a good author.
    I love your blog, by the way. Purple's my favorite color!

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  31. You are making me want to rush to find this. I'm all for geek chic and I fulfill most of the geek conditions, so this collection sounds like something I shouldn't miss.

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  32. Scott, I hope you enjoy the book. The video is a favourite of mine too.

    Amanda: You need to watch his videos! He and his brother Hank, who is also awesome, post them weekly. He does live shows on blogtv too, which he announces on Twitter. The videos are definitely as responsible for my brain crush on him as the books are :P

    Carl: Yeah, it's nearly impossible to like all the stories in an anthology - if it happened, it might mean it wasn't diverse enough. But this story in particular really crossed a line for me. I'd say it's worth reading anyway, though, because the dinosaur facts are cool :P

    Molly: I hope you do give it a chance! And thank you :D

    Michelle: So am I... so am I. They're so awesome it's not even funny.

    Jeane: I've heard very good things about Freaks and Geeks! And of course, the title alone makes me think I'd like it :P

    Kim: It's one of my favourites things too :D We LIKE stuff and we're not afraid to show it.

    Andreea: It is :D

    Trisha: Yes!

    Rhinoa: lol! I promise I will watch Buffy. I almost got the first season in DVD the other day, actually, and will go back for it when I have the chance. As for the story, it's definitely the kind of revenge fantasy we've all had. What bothered me was not so much it being cruel, but the way it played on the old idea that sexuality taints girls.

    Bermudaonion: I hope you all enjoy it!

    Vivienne: I forgot to mention her story, but it was one of my favourites too!

    Claire: Almost everyone I know keeps saying I'll love Buffy. I hope I do :P

    Debi: Science geeks are among my favourite kind of geeks :D Like I was telling Carl, I think the story's still worth reading, even if just because the questions it fails to ask make for great discussion.

    Amy: lol, I won't :P You're all lucky you got to go, though! I hope you enjoy the book.

    Jason: Yeah, I imagine that the sexism we still see in pretty much all corners of society exists in geekdom, too. Yet because I always think of geeks are smarter and cooler, it upsets me even more.

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  33. I heard about this on NPR some time ago, and it sounded like so much fun! I have seen it reviewed around a lot recently, too. I will have to get my hands on reading it soon, since I <3 geeks :-)

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  34. I've heard good things about this - and I've added it to my list after reading your review. Thanks for the heads-up on the Lyga story, though. Sounds chilling.

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  35. I really like the sound of this one. (Minus the Barry Lyga story, which sounds pretty durned objectionable). Oh, geekiness.

    And yes, you need to watch Buffy! :)

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  36. I love the cover and the stories sound great! (well except maybe the one you hated!) :--)

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  37. I absolutely *love* the sound of this one - me being a fully paid up geek (Star Trek, Buffy, Dr. Who, Torchwood and so on.) Must look out for it.

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  38. This sounds wonderful and just my kind of thing, thanks for the review.

    That last story does sound completely disturbing though I agree no one deserves to be treated like that and surely it's something we should be fighting against, the snobbish football captain would never have been brought down by such a prank!

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  39. This one sounds so good, I definitely will have to read it! I liked your comment on Lyga's story, and I agree. This use of another teen's sexuality shouldn't be taken lightly. No matter how Katya feels and how Andi treated her, this isn't something I can agree on. The other stories look really great though!

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  40. Sorry to hear that the Katya bit and I would've felt the same way too if I read the book. I still like the sound of it and will put it in my wish list. :)

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  41. Thanks for recommending this one, it sounds awesome! Yeah, like you said, there is always stories you like and stories you dislike in an anthology. I don't think I would have liked that particular story either, especially when there was the potential for the story to tell so much more than a simple revenge story.

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  42. Janicu: Yeah, WTF was pretty much my reaction too :P

    robotbooks: Finished the Du Maurier and it was great. I'm about halfway through Alias Grace and it just might be my new favourite Atwood.

    J.T. Oldfield: hehehe, good plan :D And happy anniversary!

    Naida: It was!

    ds: Yes, exactly. But other than that, the book really is a lot of fun.

    Nikola, you're welcome! :)

    Melissa: Added it to my wishlist! And also A Mango-shaped space, which sounds fantastic.

    heidenkind: The book is still worth getting, though! The rest of the stories are fantastic.

    Melody: My thoughts exactly :P

    Violet: It's still easy to relate to the characters, though: we may not like the same things as them, but we know what it's like to be passionate about things others find geeky, like books and blogging :P

    Dave: They do!

    Joanna: So the world keeps telling me...about time I listen, probably :P

    Christina: You need to make an exception for this one!

    Staci: Oooh, what was that called? It sounds like something I'd really enjoy.

    Allegra: Awww, thank you so much!

    Hazra: I think you'll enjoy it :D

    Aarti: It was released very recently, which is probably why it's getting so much attention. And also because it's awesome, of course :P

    Darla: I thought it was pretty disturbing, yes. It didn't sound like it was meant to be taken seriously, but there are some things I just can't see humour in.

    Memory: I feel that The World is telling me that I need to watch Buffy soon. I'd better listen :P

    rhapsodyinbooks: Isn't the cover great? And yes, other than that they were pretty great :)

    Cath, I hope you enjoy it!

    Alexa: One of the things that upset me the most was the scene in which Andi's also popular boyfriend breaks up with her in public, refuses to hear her side of the story, because she's "obviously" a total slut - how else would there be naked pictures of her being passed around. And yet the protagonist, Katya, continues to idealize the guy. Anyone who does that is a complete jerk in my book, and NOT a guy I'd want to be with. Yet the story makes him sound like a nice guy, and it makes it seem that "nice guys" will inevitably break up with their girlfriends once the world decides that they're "sluts".

    Kay: Yeah, I think so too. The label "slut" has been hurting girls and women for too long for me to be able to find it funny or take it lightly.

    Alice: Yes, the book is still well worth reading! I hope you enjoy it :)

    Kim: Until the last third came along I was actually enjoying it, which made me regret the direction it took even more.

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  43. I was hoping to win this at Lenore's! lol
    As soon as I read there's a story about Buffy geeks I had to have it!!

    but I think I'd agree with you about the story you disliked. Definitely not OK to be so cruel with a teenage girl, no matter how mean she is. And especially to use her sexuality to brand her a slut...

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  44. Buffy geeks, squeeeee! This is going on my TBR list for sure.

    I will trust that you will watch Buffy one day and not be YET ANOTHER person telling you that you HAVE TO watch it. :-)

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  45. Haha! Love the vid. What he says about calling someone a nerd not being an insult is really true.

    I haven't seen Buffy yet either. Someday...

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  46. Valentina: Yeah, definitely not okay. And as always, I'm not surprised you agree :P

    Kelly: I will watch it soon, promise!

    tanabata: It really is :D We LIKE stuff. So what?

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.