Geek Assistance Needed

Oh, the things I’ll do in the name of professional development. I have had the opportunity to learn pop songs on the uke, figure out how to play X Box (and subsequently get trounced upon by a bunch of grade school kids in a Just Dance 4 dance off), and brush up on my trivia for a game of Stump the Librarian at Market Square Reading Room, all in the name of doing my job. Whatever it takes to get folks excited about the library, I’ll do it.

String meme

The latest professional challenge facing me, however, may involve a complete change of identity. You see, the Library has embraced geek culture in a big way — see The Den, The Buzz, Out of the Gutter, Hands On Workshops, and a goodly chunk of our Teen programming, to name a few. The library and geeks are natural allies — we love technology, learning, making lists, collecting things, and pop culture. And in my role as an outreach librarian, I have an obligation to go out and bring the library’s mission of lifelong learning and literacy to geeks wherever they may work, play, and LARP.

The problem is, despite my love for the obscure and a deep-seated and strong opinion in the Star Wars v. Star Trek debate, I am not yet a geek.

That’s not to say that I am a prep or a jock or any other non-nerd John Hughes archetype. I simply have never been able to stick to anything long enough to get really knowledgeable about it, which for me is the hallmark of geekiness. Sure, I’ve read some sci fi, played a few video games, read a decent number of comics, watched some movies, and made some stuff, but my knowledge in these areas is too broad for me to even be accurately called a generalist. I’m a dabbler at best.

There’s a bit of a sense of urgency here, because I would love to represent the Library at the Pittsburgh Comicon 2013 on September 27, 28, and 29. When I was working the table at the Comic Art Festival, I got called out as a non-geek because I wasn’t able to identify a web comic character. Never again! Now’s the time to cultivate my inner geek.

That’s where you come in, dear Eleventh Stack readers. Be my Virgil, er, Yoda, and guide me to be a +10 level geek!

Professional development literature. It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it.

Professional development literature. It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it.

To set the mood for my quest, I’ve started with a book that was recommended to me by both my Dickens-loving brother and a fantasy-loving librarian friend, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. I have fallen in love with this book, and I’ve got several years’ worth of reading, viewing, and playing suggestions to work through based on the story. If you haven’t heard of this book, check it out immediately. It’s a dystopian adventure story set in a riot-filled, poverty-stricken, environmentally-wrecked near future in which the vast majority of inhabitants of Earth escape the ugly reality by plugging in to a massive virtual reality video game universe called the OASIS. The genius inventor of this virtual world left an “easter egg,”(which I learned is a hidden challenge within a video game that has no bearing on the primary game-play) a series of challenges that will yield to the winner a vast sum of money and a controlling stake in the game’s universe. This book pits our hard-luck teenage protagonist against a massive corporation with dubious intentions and I LOVE IT.

Other recent forays – Joss Whedon’s X-Men series, Twin Peaks, Makey Makey — have been equally promising. But since time is scarce, I need some help! For starters:

  • Do you have to start a comic series from the beginning, even if it goes back 50 or 60 years? Can you just jump in?
  • Manga — I’ve read some Osamu Tezuka, what’s next?
  • What’s an entry point for a fantasy-curious reader?
  • What Superman series will cure me of my tendency to find him boring?
  • If you only have time for one science fiction TV series, should it be Firefly or Battlestar?
  • I’m not a teenager, do I have enough time left in my life to consume and understand Dr. Who or should I move on?
  • I like Red Fang and Sleep, but I fear that these groups are false metal. Please discuss.
  • What’s this Homestuck all about?
  • Do you have a favorite Cthulhu story not written by Lovecraft?

What else do I need to know before Comicon?

-Dan aka Morath, my new Klingon name


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12 responses to “Geek Assistance Needed

  1. As far as Battlestar vs. Firefly, definitely Battlestar. While I love Joss Whedon’s work, I have to say that the writing for Battlestar is much better. And, regarding Dr. Who, it took my husband, who is a Dr. Who fan, to get me into it. If you know someone who is already a Dr. Who fan, then that will make it much easier. They can help you sort through all of the different doctors and companions as well as a lot of the inside jokes. And finally about fantasy: if you like to study mythology, then you might enjoy Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. Have fun!

  2. Don

    Can’t help with all of ’em … but here goes …

    Comic series – start from the beginning, dweeb!
    Fantasy entry point: Phantastes by George MacDonald
    Superman is hopeless …
    Dr. Who: simple, just step into the TARDIS and you have all the time in the world(s)
    Favorite Cthulhu story not by Lovecraft: A tie -The Shambler from the Stars by Robert Bloch (in which he kills off the Lovecraft character) and A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman (Cthulhu set in the world of Sherlock Holmes)

    Good luck on your mission, Morath.

  3. Amy Kreger

    You can read any comic book at any time ever. As an example, The XMen universe is so vast and has changed so much, it is has no actual consistency over time. Start with the past decade and work your way forward. Or sideways! Choose a compilation graphic novel format that bundles all the events of an entire series into one place…like The Sandman Series. For extra geek-points, choose independent publishers for quality name-dropping.

    For fantasy, start with The Hobbit and then see if you like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If not, the work of Piers Anthony is accessible, recognizable and fun. Horror can also be geek-y; try Clive Barker on for size.

    I’ve only love in my heart for Tom Baker as Dr. Who, I’m afraid.

    And Firefly; it is short, sweet, and eminently enjoyable.

  4. LawMonkey

    My cred is debatable at best, but:

    Comics: For mainstream series (Batman, Superman, etc.), think of them as soap operas for geeks/boys. Nobody expects you to go back to 1965 and start “The Days of Our Lives” from episode 1; nor do you have to do it with most comic series. More daunting is the tendency for the publishers to do EPIC TIE-IN SPECIALS where suddenly the plot-line you were trying to follow in the X-men hops over and starts hanging out in Spiderman. This, I am led to believe, Sells More Issues. I don’t care for it, but then again, I’m mostly over here reading some Star Wars comics, The Unwritten (go read this right now. Really.), and Fables. For these sorts of less mainstream comics, it may be more important to pick up from the beginning… or not. You’ll figure it out.

    Manga: Not my thing. Go watch Dragon Half if you want a laugh, though. And the whole Ghost in the Shell franchise seems to have great love.

    Fantasy: Well, heck. The Hobbit is sort of the iconic starting point for the genre, so I personally would recommend starting there. Be forewarned, though; Tolkien geeks are very geeky, and Tolkien gave them a lot of material to be geeky about. Until you’ve read The Hobbit, the LOTR trilogy, and especially the Silmarillion, you are a mere dabbler. Past that, there’s a lot of good fantasy and there’s a lot of drek. Pick something up, google it and see what the reviews are like on amazon. I’ll personally recommend three very different books: 1) Redwall, by Bryan Jacques. The beginning of a long-running children’s/YA series of fantasy novels about heroic woodland creatures who have some truly remarkable feasts. 2) Jhereg, by Stephen Brust. The beginning of a long-running series of fantasy novels about a human assassin/crimelord in a world dominated by (effectively) elves, where humans are very much a disrespected minority. The whole thing has a certain taste of paprika to it, due to Brust’s Hungarian heritage. Plus, Brust is just a cool guy in general. 3) The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. What will hopefully become the beginning of a long-running series of fantasy novels in an alternate modern-day earth, in which a sort of supernatural MI5 (and its American equivalent) protect the English-speaking world from all manner of Eldritch Horror. I read this mostly in one day; when I finished, the first thing I wanted to do was go back to page one. It’s that damned good .

    Superman: Not my thing again, and he’s kinda fundamentally flawed as a concept. Check out Superman: Red Son, though, in which Supes crashes into the Soviet Union, rather than America. Also, for some interesting playing with the whole superhero thing, Irreedeemable and it’s mirror image, Incorruptible, are worth checking out. The former takes a Superman-style superhero and has him turn into a supervillain; the latter, vice versa.

    TV: Firefly. No question about it.

    Doctor (never Dr., though I do get lazy about it too) Who: Plenty of time. The original series is optional at this point. Start with the Eccleston run of the new series. If you want to abridge it, there are probably sites around that tell you what episodes are clunkers and can be safely skipped.

    Metal: Er, since when does this have to do with geekery? Anyway, if I cared about whether something was “false”, I’d probably think they were, since I dig the whole black metal thing. Go check out Gogol Bordello and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.

    Homestuck: No idea.

    Cthulhu: There is only Lovecraft, IMO.

  5. 1. I would just jump in. There is just way too much backstory to try and read it all. You can always fake it and read wikipedia entries. But I do have a recommendation: Elfquest
    2. Manga: Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and Inuyasha are pretty good
    3. Fantasy curious reader: Try Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. You can pretty much just pick up any book and enjoy the ride. Recommendations: Going Postal and Guards! Guards!
    4. Eh Superman. I’ve only watch the first 2 Chrisopher Reeve’s versions.
    5. Firefly
    6. Dr. Who will CONSUME YOU. Proceed with caution. (Highly recommended if you don’t mind losing sleep for a month straight)
    7. I don’t know about Red Fang and Sleep. Too lazy to look it up too.
    8. Never heard of Homestuck until reading this.
    9. Don’t really have any interest in Cthulhu to help out.

  6. What a fun challenge to set yourself!
    With comic series, I’m guessing you mean those 50 years of superhero comics. I’m just starting to try and find my way in there. If you saw The Avengers, I recommend picking up Hawkeye: my life as a weapon, which was my first superhero comic.
    I misread on the first skim, and came up with a list of manga for fantasy readers. Um. A Bride’s Story is a beautiful historical series.
    Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. YA, comic take on fairy tale tropes
    The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: A rather sophisticated middle grade fantasy caper
    The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss: Somewhat darker adult novel (but not Game of Thrones grim). There’s a magic library!
    If you find Superman boring, you find him boring. It’s okay.
    Firefly, it’s shorter.
    Dr Who, just pick one of the newer seasons (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, or Matt Smith), and watch that. Each time the doctor changes, it’s a bit of a reboot, and a great jumping in point. Plus most of the current fans will be more familiar with the newer doctors.
    Don’t ask about Homestuck.

  7. lizzy

    Am halfway through Firefly and loving it.
    If you want to be ‘ahead’ of the curve, go read Ender’s Game and the two sequels by Orson Scott Card. It’s coming out as a movie next year and I suspect will generate a LOT of buzz.

  8. Take a look at the book Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. This covers a lot of ground in a fun way. It was also edited (and about 75% written by), former editor of In Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Magazine and ex-pat Pittsburgher Stephen Segal.

  9. I KNEW I COULD COUNT ON YOU GUYS! Now to parse the suggestions…

    Eleventh Stack readers are the best!!

  10. I’d say go with Firefly over BSG because you can definitely get through 14 episodes before the con.

  11. Joelle

    Here’s my $.02 – Watch both Firefly AND Battlestar, Jump into a comic book series in the middle – if you like it, try reading the series backwards (this also goes for any Star Trek series as well). Forget Dr. Who. Superman – you either love him or not. Read Love and Rockets, Sandman, and Swampthing. Roger Zelazny’s Amber series is a good Fantasy series. I liked Moorcock’s Elric series as well. Herbert’s Dune is very good – just read the first one, and definitely SKIP THE MOVIE. Read a Conan book. They are very good, but essentially all the same.

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