I Was a Social Outcast: Cassie-la Fraks Around With “Geektastic” from Holly Black

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd [edited] by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Genre: Fiction, anthology, nerd culture, geekery, young adult, holy crap stop stealing bits of my life
Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars

Summary: Some of the best known young adult authors take on the subculture known as nerdom, from conventions to online gaming to super hero worship and beyond.

This collection of stories will take you to the farthest reaches of space, Middle-earth, and your own bedroom.

In high school I was a nerd. I am still a nerd. I have an unhealthy love affair for Wolverine, I have a Fellowship cloak in my closet and a ring of power on my dresser. There’s a plush Necromicon in my living room and a vorpal blade on my bookshelf. I dressed up as Sango from “InuYasha” complete with life sized hiraikotsu (AKA giant boomerang) in high school. And no, I didn’t have to look up the spelling for hiraikotsu, I just know it off the top of my head. I even worked in a comic book store. I was and am in all senses of the word, a nerd. Albeit a high functioning one.

It was the tie to the subculture of all things nerdy that drew me to Geektastic. My first impression was that this anthology was going to be similar to Zombies Vs. Unicorns (also edited by Holly Black). I found that Geektastic was a lot more entertaining, particularly because half of it wasn’t devoted to lame ass unicorns. It also features a lot of my favourite young adult authors like M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, John Green, Kelly Link, and Scott Westerfeld.

The anthology opens with a short story from its two editors, Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci and was the spark for the entire collection. Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way tells of a romance between two unlikely figures, a Klingon and a Jedi. As popular culture has taught us and constantly uses as fodder, Star Wars fans and “Star Trek” fans are mortal enemies. As the editors mention in the introduction, no one in their right mind would publish such a story, so they were determined to edit an anthology in which this romance would be accepted. And let me tell you, it fits in perfectly and opens the anthology up just right. I’m not a fan of either series and it had me giggling the whole way through, and not just for the fact that there’s inexplicably a Stormtrooper at every convention. Seriously, why is there always at least one Stormtrooper?

The next story which definitely hit high marks for me was Scott Westerfeld’s Definitional Chaos, but I’m probably biased because I’m a huge Scott Westerfeld fan. It tells the story of gamers going on a non consequential mission and discussing the moral alignment of various characters in popular culture and their own lives as deemed necessary via Dungeons and Dragons. Whether a character is lawful or chaotic, good, evil, or neutral or any combination of those is important to the plot and comes up quite a lot. It also has the reader question the motivations of the characters, from the lawful good of Temptress Moon to the chaotic good of his crazy ex-girlfriend. I bet it’s that crazy chick who dresses as a Stormtrooper at Harry Potter/horror movie conventions for no good reason.

As a fanfiction superstar who later lucked out and gained a real writing career, Cassandra Clare is no stranger to the nerd fandom. I Never is about people who play RPG online having a party and meeting in real life. I particularly appreciate the references to classic literary characters like Heathcliff and books such as Watership Down, but equally appreciate her more popular references to “Buffy” and “Xena”. Props to you Miss Clare. If that is your real name. Which it’s not.

The strangest and longest story is Secret Identity by Kelly Link, which is completely removed from reality. It is written like most Kelly Link stories, with a strange disjointed narrative and a style which is off putting and intriguing all at the same time. In her world, a girl meets a man in an online game and agrees to meet him in a hotel. However, at the same time there is a superhero convention going on, and everyone there are actual superheroes. It’s not just a convention with pretend heroes, it’s a convention with real heroes. These heroes include someone who is a mass of floating goopy blood. I can’t even think of an English major related metaphor for why such a character exists.

There’s so much nerdery in this one little collection that I could not possibly fit it all into one post. Although I certainly wish I could. The Wrath of Dawn talks about a hated character in the “Buffy” fandom, Garth Nix’s The Quiet Knight talks about LARPing, The Truth About Dino Girl is about a girl with an unhealthy dinosaur obsession, This is My Audition Monologue is for theatre nerds, and It’s Just a Jump to the Left by Libba Bray is for all fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The stories that don’t work so well are few and far between. The first is One of Us by Tracy Lynn, about a popular girl who pays nerds to teach her how to connect with her boyfriend over LotR and “Star Trek” and magically accepts them for who they are. I didn’t like this story more because it’s extremely implausible. Leopards generally don’t change their spots. The same can be said for Everyone But You which is about a baton twirler who struggles to fit in when she moves to Hawaii. M.T. Anderson’s story The King of Pelinesse was also disappointing, especially since I have read some wonderful short stories from him in the past. I highly recommend his story Watch and Wake in the anthology Gothic.

The little niggling problem I had with the anthology was the comic strips between each story. I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but I am not a fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s artwork AT ALL. All his characters look the same, both in that they’re all shaped in exactly the same way but with varying degrees of height and I can’t tell any of them apart except that some are men and some are women. It doesn’t help that I really disliked Scott Pilgrim, which I think is a tale about a bunch of horrible hipsters with no ability to hold relationships or be real human beings.

THE GOOD:
-Brings me back to my days of fanfiction and cosplaying Sango in high school
-References many things near and dear to my heart
-Reminds me that I am not and will never be truly alone
-Frak frak frakkity frak frak frak!

THE BAD:
-Not every story is amazing, but that’s to be expected in anthologies
-Not a fan of Bryan Lee O’Malley (all his characters look the same!)

The main theme that runs throughout these stories is a theme of acceptance. No matter how weird or different or nerdy we are there will always be a place for us in the world. So put on some nerdcore, let your geek flag fly, and vote for Gandalf in 2012. Put a White Wizard in the White House!

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3 thoughts on “I Was a Social Outcast: Cassie-la Fraks Around With “Geektastic” from Holly Black

  1. Please note – She isn’t kidding about the boomerang. It was bigger than her!!

    I love all of the things in this post – whether it was thinking about your amazing collection of nerdy things or hearing about all of the stories, it made me happy. Nerdfighters for the win!

    And Scott Pilgrim was fun to read for me, as I appreciated all of the video game references and silly hipster angst. But it’s not mind-blowingly amazing by any stretch of the imagination. Though I do covet some of Ramona’s outfits…

    Also – those damn storm troopers are everywhere.

    • That boomerang is still in my closet at my mother’s house. One day I shall hang it somewhere. It’s just so damn big!

      I really think you would enjoy this book a lot. There were a lot of fun references and a lot of laugh out loud bits.

      I thought the outfits were fun and the plot was not interesting for me at all. Ramona and Scott will never be able to get over all their drama and they will eventually break up at some point regardless. Also, I don’t know much about video games so I probably missed all of that.

      The Stormtrooper in the pimp robe from Infinitus was pretty hysterical.

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