Friday 15 January 2010

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd - Ed. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd
Ed. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Little Brown
ISBN 9780316008099

This is an amazing collection of fiction with everything from sci-fi conventions, to cheerleaders, to star gazing and prep schools. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci came up with the idea for the first story in this collection in 2007 at Comic-Con in San Diego. The story would be a nerd love story - a Jedi and a Klingon wake up in bed at a Science Fiction convention together not remembering exactly what happened. They realize that their preferred alternate realities, theologies and practices are diametrically opposed, and yet they find they like each other. But soon upon having the idea for the story they realized nob
ody would publish it, so they went to their geek friends far and wide and asked them to contribute to a collection, and what an amazing collection it is.

To be honest, I picked it up because Holly Black was one of the editors and I generally really appreciate and enjoy her work. And yet it surpassed all my expectations; I plan on tracking down works from a number of contributors and reading them from the pieces found in this collection. Their work will be great. The contributors are:

Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Tracy Lynn
Scott Westerfeld
Cassandra Clare

M.T. Anderson
Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith
David Levithan
Garth Nix
Lisa Yee
Kelly Link
John Green
Barry Lyga
Sara Zarr
Wendy Mass
Libba Bray

And between each short story is a comic, illustrated either by Bryan Lee O'Malley or Hope Larson. The back of the dust jacket gives definitions of both geek and geektastic. They are:

Geek \gek\ n: 1. A person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked 2. A person who is so passionate about a given subject or subjects as to occasionally cause annoyance among others

geek-tas-tic \ gek-tas-tic\ adj: marked by fantastic geek qualities; a compliment of the highest regard

Number 1. From geek might be is a real definition. This book will help make the others so as well. For geek is the new chic. To be a geek is now cool and this collection has something for every flavor of geek: Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, Comics, and much, much more. I was surprised that I enjoyed every story in the collection. Usually with anthologies, a few stories stick out as great, a few suck and a few are ok. I actually appreciate the art of each piece in the collection. That speaks much about the editors but also the authors that contributed. Reading this collection brought back memories of high school, Queen's University and my time here at UWaterloo. Just as a side note, the images on the covers are representations of our contributors, and there are a few different versions of the covers because the figures are not always in the same order. Each represents the story they told or the characters in those stories. It's geeky but fun to link them together as you work through the book. And as a second aside, I would love to see an audio book come out either as dramatized or each author reading their piece.

Knowing I will not do them justice, I will try to provide a brief summary of each of the stories in this wonderful collection.

Once You're a Jedi, You're a Jedi All the Way
Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci have woven a wonderful tale about different world views colliding and then settling. It is an excellent story of a Jedi and a Klingon who fall in love. As the best stories do, it leaves you wanting to know what happens next. Black is best known for her part in the duo that created The Spiderwick Chronicles, and Castelluci has won awards for both her novels and graphic novels. By far, this is one of my favorite pieces in the collection.

One of Us
In this interesting story by Tracy Lynn, a cheerleader goes to the Games club so they can teach her Geek. Her boyfriend is into Original Trek, and the Lord of the Rings.
She wants to understand him better so she pays the geeks to teach her. They set up a schedule to teach her - movies, tv, comics and more. She is doing this for love, but as many of us know, at times, love sucks. Lynn has published numerous books including Snow, RX, and The Nine Lives of Chloe.

Definitional Chaos
Can a last kiss ever be good? In this story Scott Westerfeld takes us on an adventure between two people who were once in a relationship and are now trusted with taking eighty-four thousand dollars by train to pay for convention fees. He doesn't trust her, and she loves pushing his buttons. But in reality she is looking for resolution to their already-ended relationship. It is a great story and would read a little like a Robert B. Parker story if he spoke geek instead of just tough. Westerfeld is the author of So Yesterday, Peeps and The Last Day.

I Never
Cassandra Clare is bestselling author of City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass (Not to be confused with Douglas Coupland's book by the same title.) This again is another love story but about two people from an online game who meet at a gatheri
ng of members from the game. It does not go nearly as planned. Jane was in the online game playing as who she is in the real word and her Heathcliff is not, or at least not who she thinks Heathcliff is. It is fun, funny and quirky in the way that is best enjoyed by those who have met in real life someone they met online previously.

The King of Plinesse
Having met a number of the authors I really appreciate, I have enjoyed the experience. I have however never gone to one's house to meet them unannounced. Of course it might be different if I was under the impression the author in question had had an affair with my mother. It is interesting that M.T. Anderson writes a story about a fan contacting an author when he is the only contributor to the collection without a personal or
professional website I could find. It is an interesting story but in my opinion it is the weakest in the collection. (Website released late march 2010.)

The Wrath of Dawn
This story by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith is both about the geek and the blended family. It is the story of a Dawn who relates to Dawn from Buffy, and yet it has a strength and power in her protestations over her situation in life. A good well-balanced story.

Quiz Bowl Antichrist
My favorite quote from this whole book comes from this story: "My social status was the same as a water fountain in the hall - people were happy enough I was there when they needed me, but otherwise they walked on by." This story written by David Levithan is about sexuality and self discovery. It is about a boy who doesn't realize
it, but he is in love with one of the other boys on the Quiz Bowl team, and that is really the only reason he does it. Things come to a head when the team has traveled to compete in the nationals. The story is well and tastefully done by the author of such books as Boy Meets Boy, the Realm of Possibility and Marley's Ghost to name but a few.

The Quiet Knight
It is hard to imagine someone who likes science fiction or fantasy who has not heard of Garth Nix. This is a great story for anyone who wanted to fight in armor or play with swords. The Quiet Knight
had damaged vocal cords but he loves to role play, especially simulated battles. But his role playing world and his life at school are about to collide. It is definitely one of the top 3 stories in the collection.

Everyone But You
Lisa Yee creates a story about a girl who is the queen bee at her current highschool but when her family moves to Hawaii she becomes the lowest on the school totem pole. But it is also the story of her learning what really matters and how to face adversity. This is a good story by author of Millicent Min, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time and Absolutely Maybe.

Secret Identity
Kelly Link writes a story that is a long, rambling letter from a 15 year old girl who had pretended to be much older in an online game. Then when she sneaks off to New York to meet her online romance, things do not go as planned, and this story is her true confession. It is a story with superheroes, (of the convention kind) and personalities both flamboyant and somber. It is the longest piece in the collection and has a certain charm, but not one of the best. Link has authored Pretty Monsters and Stranger Things Happen (both of which are reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk books Invisible Monsters and Stranger than Fiction.)

Freak the Geek
In one of the shortest pieces in the collection John Green presents a story about life at a girls' prep school - a story where the senior class picks two geeks to pick on as part of the school's tradition. It is told from the perspective of those to be freaked. John Green is award-winning author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns.

The Truth About Dino Girl
Revenge of the Nerd, told from a girl's perspective is the best way to describe this story by Barry Lyga. They say Revenge is a dish best served cold. In this one, be cautious of the woman wronged, especially if that woman is a geek. This is a dark tale of what people can do to each other after being hurt. It is a powerf
ul piece of storytelling, and captures the damage that a few words or actions can cause. Lyga is the author of The Astonishing adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl.

This is My Audition Monologue
This story was the one I enjoyed the least. Sara Zarr presents a piece about a drama club person who is auditioning in her senior year. She does a long rambling piece about her 4 years doing behind the scene work for school plays, and that the guy who was electrocuted last year doing lighting should have been her. With lots of pop culture, film and theatre reference, it is an ok piece, just did not appeal to me. Zarr has two critically-acclaimed novels, Sweethearts and Story of a Gi
rl. She has also contributed to numerous anthologies.

The Stars at the Finish Line
Wendy Mass is the author of eight novels including A Mango-Shaped Space, Jeremy Find and Heaven Looks A Lot Like The Mall. This is the story of two young people who have been competing since the 4th grade, and now in their final year realize they are more alike than different. They go on a field trip to try to complete the Messier Marathon. This ranks as one of the top three stories for me - fantastic storytelling and amazing information on astronomy.

It's Just a Jump to the Left
This is a short story with young girls who weekly attend the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They both wish life were different and for their age are dealing with major things in life. But the weekly trips to the show, dress
ed up in costume, are what unites them together and sets them apart. Libba Bray writes a very interesting piece dealing with many issues, disease, hope, despair and frustration.

This is an amazing collection both because of the individual pieces,
and because it can introduce you to so many new authors to pursue. It is well written and very well edited. Pick it up for either your outer geek or your secret, hidden inner geek. I am sure there is something you will enjoy, laugh at, or maybe even cry with.

(First Published in Imprint 2010-01-15.)

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