Tag Archives: nerds–geeks–dweebs–and-dorks

#7: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraThis is a book about books for people who love books.

I liked it SO MUCH.

Clay has had bad jobs and things are getting worse.  But fate or happenstance or J. Randomness has him stumble into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Seemingly without his knowledge, he takes a job there and things are weird.  Really weird.

There aren’t many books that you’d expect to see in a bookstore and not a lot of customers.  But there are really weird people who come in and out to borrow books from the back.  Climbing ladders like a monkey, he lends out and reshelves books that make no sense to him.

So, of course, he investigates.

A new girlfriend and old friends join in on the adventure.  From technology created right this very second to scribes and giant books chained up in a basement, this book is all about books.  And exploring books.  And loving books.

I had no clue what was happening and there were times where I wasn’t sure who was The Good Guy in Clay’s journey.  I was totally on one side, but then.. waitaminute… what if?  I was more into the characters than the solution to the investigation, but that’s a compliment.  I wanted to see how everyone approached it in their own way and how it was going to all come together to reveal what was happening.

And this is what I liked the most about this book.  Everyone is searching for the same thing, but in different ways and the answer might not be the same.  Someone is going to be disappointed.  Someone is going to fail.  It’s possible that no one will even figure out the ultimate question, let alone solve the problem.  People want to keep with tradition while others think it’s criminal not to use technology to approach the problem.  Everyone is working on the same goal, but everyone has different reasons.

Clay does fit in to that sort of Everyday Hero Man.  He’s not too much of anything and he surrounds himself with people he can draw from to move forward.  This was a bit clichéd but I didn’t mind.  Books follow motifs because motifs work.

I wish I worked in a crazy bookstore with weird secrets and odd customers and rules.

PS: The cover glows in the dark.  IT GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!

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#52: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Ladies and gentlemen… NUMBER FIFTY-TWO!!!

Gruden

It might not look like it, but Gruden did support my goal.

After missing my goal last year, I am very pleased to have finished a few weeks ahead of time this year.  (I still have a few reviews to write and will finish with more than fifty-two!)

Layout 1And now… Shine Shine Shine.

I liked this book very quickly and realized it was going to be hard to review.  Trying to describe the plot is either going to simplify it and not do it justice or will cause people to make a confused face and back away slowly.

It is so good!

Instead of plot, I’m going to talk about characters.  And a little bit of plot.

Sunny was born bald.  And stayed bald.  No eyebrows, no eyelashes, no hair on her arms or legs.  She seemed to be just a big head that needed to be protected from the sun.  She had a mother who did protect her from the sun and from people in life who would be cruel.

Maxon was born into the wrong family.  An Appalachian family, poor and abusive.  They couldn’t comprehend his intelligence, his inability to take orders or follow directions  and why he doesn’t want to spend time in a run down house where sheep live in rusted out cars and where fists and belts make pleasant conversation.

Maxon and Sunny met when they were children.  Sunny’s mother quickly saw that Maxon was different and needed guidance.  Perhaps she knew what Asperger’s was or she just saw that he needed an understanding mother figure.  She began to teach him social skills – how to react to people’s voices and body language.  What phrases to memorize so he could respond to people in an acceptable way.  Sunny helps with this, letting him know when he’s doing things right.

As they grow older, Maxon falls in love.  It is logical and complete and he waits for Sunny to come to him.  He deals in absolutes and when they are both still young he recognizes that she is his mate.  His logic also recognizes that she will do other things but eventually will return to him, simply because they are supposed to be together.

It’s mathematical, logical, quantifiable and beautiful.

Years later Maxon takes his assigned place as Sunny’s husband and Sunny decides it’s time to take on the role of Perfect Wife, Perfect Neighbor, and Perfect Mother.  A wig appears.  False eyelashes.  Glued on eyebrows.  She has assigned herself this task and applies herself to it just as Maxon applies himself to his job at NASA.  He is confused by Sunny’s role, but she continues to train him in what she needs and how he should react.  He is in love and happy, but confused at the new formulas that are introduced.

And everything changes when a rock hits a rocket and a car hits a car.

This book works because of how carefully and thoroughly Netzer created Sunny and Maxon.  Again, trying to explain the plot feels impossible because it’s both complex logic and pure love.  Emotion and logic don’t often mix well, but here it is perfect.  Netzer created something amazing and her formulas throughout the book applying human emotion and reactions into math for Maxon to access are brilliant and way above my basic grasp of math.

I wanted everything to work.  The story is told with many flashbacks and even though I knew they were married, I still worried and wanted to be sure the pieces all fit.  When things began to change in present time, I worried that it was too late to fix misunderstandings and anger.  There is so much happening in this book that it could have easily fallen apart.  With Sunny on Earth dealing with her own crisis and loss of self and Maxon in space with a crisis of mechanics and possible destruction, I had to stay up way past my bedtime on a work night to find out how it all ends.

I love when a book is so satisfying.  Netzer really nailed it.  The plot, the characters, the love, the logic, the emotions… It’s beautiful and wonderful and I have no clue how she made it work.

#5: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book has a very specific audience in mind, and happily, I’m it!  Reading this was a treat.

The book takes place in 2044 and virtual reality has become the only reality.  You need to pop off from time to time to eat, but everything else in done online in OASIS.  School, work, gaming, love… it’s all on the other side of your headset.  Sure, the world outside could crumble at any minute, but as long as you manage not to get stabbed, you’re doing OK.

Wade wants more than access to OASIS.  He wants out of the shithole he lives in.  He wants money and power and fame and awesome in-game equipment.  And out-of-game equipment.  And maybe a girlfriend.

And like everyone else, he wants to solve the great OASIS puzzle and win the internet.

James Halliday co-created OASIS and when he died he posthumously announced to the world that he had hidden the ultimate Easter Egg inside the virtual world.  The first person to find it wins the controlling rights to OASIS, Halliday’s entire fortune and all the power that comes with it.  You will become the most powerful person alive. 

The world frantically studies every moment of Halliday’s life to search for clues.  Huge databases are compiled to keep track of his favorites movies and bands in order to try and guess where the first clue is hidden. 

A huge, evil cooperation is formed to find the Egg so that they can begin charging for OASIS and become the richest and most powerful group on the planet.  The regular guys are up against this giant, but no one trusts anyone enough to share all their information.  Only one person can win.

Years go by.  Nothing happens.

And then Wade solves the first puzzle.  And then the evil corporate Sixers try to kill him.

In addition to the awesome gamer plot line, the entire book is a worship of 80’s culture.  While OASIS can be modded by anyone, Halliday created his own world to mirror his 80’s upbringing.  His video will takes place in a John Hughes movie.  Everyone hunting for the Egg is obsessed with the 80’s and Cline covers the book with references to games, music, movies, videos, styles and more.

People have complained that this book doesn’t work because it’s too much of a gamer book or there’s too much 80’s culture and nothing more, but they don’t get it.  Of course the book is too much of a gamer book!  It’s a GAMER BOOK!  That would be like saying  A Tale of Two Cities has too much to do with the French Revolution.  THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT!  And yes, the 80’s love is thick, but again, Cline created a character that created a world based on his love of the 80’s, so of course everyone is going to hunt there for clues.  Halliday created what he knew, and the world studies it to try to solve the great puzzle.

I loved everything about this book.  I thought the characters were great, the plot was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the references.  I was happy to see a They Might Be Giants lyric used as a password, and I was even happier to know that there were other references I wasn’t catching, but another reader was.  If you’re in the target audience for this book, you’re going to find shout outs throughout. 

Would a non-gamer like this book?  I doubt it.  Cline isn’t going to over-explain many things, so I can see a reader getting confused and frustrated and not getting it.  I did wonder what young whippersnappers who know little about the 80’s would think about the references, but I think they’d get pulled in.  Wade is a teenager and he identifies with Halliday.  It works.

The first half of the book is a bit slow, which makes sense.  Years have gone by with nothing happening, so it makes sense that things seem almost dull.  But once Wade solves that first puzzle, it is madness and the pacing takes off.  There are a few moments where you get to stop and catch your breath, but when the characters are frantic, you are frantic.  I was happy with the ending.  I knew it could only end with one person standing, but I couldn’t figure out how that one person was going to get there.  But then things happen and maybe it’s not going to be only one person.  But then other things happen and people are dead.  What in the hell is happening?

This book gets solid love from me.  If I was forced to put together an All Time Favorite Books EVER list, this would be on it.  Now I need to get the audio version so Wil Wheaton can read it to me.

#34: Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf

I wanted to like this book.

I wanted to love it.

I wanted to cheer for Gilsdorf as he reclaimed his freak and geek, grabbed his dice and nerded the night away.

Instead I read through some 300 pages waiting for him to make a decision.  ANY decision.  Just make a decision, commit to it and become it.  So, uhm, I guess there are spoilers coming, unless you agree with him and not me.  Then there are still spoilers, but you think I’m way off base.

Gilsdorf starts of by reminiscing about his childhood and the role D&D had in protecting him from reality, providing him with friends, and creating an outlet where he could control situations while giving in to fantasy.

Later he discovers girls and puts away such childish things.  (Fool.)

Then he gets to be about 40, questions everything about his ability to be in a successful relationship and decides he needs to examine his early love of gaming to figure out where it all went wrong.  Or figure out if he can become a gamer again and be happy.  Or make fun of nerds and be happy.  Or figure out what in the holy hell he needs to do to be in love and be happy.

I want him to be happy.

He starts with Tolkien and his love for Lord of the Rings.  The movies are what drew him back to his freaky-geeky roots and he meets with hardcore Tolkien society members.  He talks to people about their passion for the books and the movies and the man and tries to figure out where the line is between “acceptable appreciation” and “basement dwelling creature” when it comes to being a fan of something.

He then realizes he can write a book by spending time examining different areas of freak and geek.  So he travels.

  • Tolkien
  • D&D
  • Gygax, GenCon (too scary), LGGC IV and tabletop RPGs
  • LARPing
  • Freak/Geek couples -or- Can Nerds Find Love?
  • The Guedelon worksite in France
  • Wizard Rock
  • Pennsic and the SCA
  • WoW and other MMORPGs
  • Dragon*Con
  • New Zealand…for more Lord of the Rings
  • Attempt to put all of these experiences together to figure out his life and the role of freak and geek in the real world.

As a nerd, this list makes me salivate.  The idea of having this much time and money to explore and learn more and go to cons and play games and play games and play games and read books in England and New Zealand and talk about games and play more games and talk to people who love LARPing and being in the SCA and listening to nerd music and playing games is too much for my brain to handle without me getting twitchy fingers.  But the entire time Gilsdorf is there, he’s hesitant and apologetic to the non-nerds who might be reading and he doesn’t want them to know he’s not really one of Those Freaks Over There and ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  You are doing AWESOME THINGS, so shut up and ENJOY YOURSELF.

It drove me crazy  because I felt like every time Gilsdorf started to feel comfortable as a gamer or a nerd or a freak or a geek, he’d convince himself that it was socially unacceptable and he’d run away and point out the parts of the culture that don’t work out so well.  It felt like he was trying really hard not to get stuffed in a locker.  And even when he was jealous of what some of the freaks and geeks had, he still kept himself distanced.  It was Him versus Them.  He might understand the Thems, but he didn’t want to be a Them.  Too much Cheeto dust on the fingertips, I guess.

He meets freaks that have fallen in love, not by changing their freak and geek selves, but because they ARE freaks and geeks.  He seems to decide that this kind of love isn’t for him, or that he’ll find it immediately and it will be easy and wonderful and will happen without thought or work.  So he shrugs and moves on.

The entire book isn’t a loss.  He does force himself to confront his belief system and articulate what he wants.  I just wanted him to jump in the air, claim his freakness and rejoin the land of Gamer.

And, as a geek, it was fun to read because I enjoy watching people try to explain what in the heck we’re doing.  I did wonder from time to time if he was over- or under- explaining things.  Did I understand more because I already knew what the letters meant?  If a non-geek was reading this book (but why would he or she???) would they be confused and frustrated?  Did hardcore geeks get frustrated because Gilsdorf was explaining things that were painfully obvious… to them?  There is a glossary in the back which makes it feel that this is a guide book to people who are not freaks and geeks, but are curious to know what goes on behind closed basement doors.

Gilsdorf is never cruel, even when he’s completely uncomfortable.  While he keeps that clear line of Him versus Them, he never mocks the geek, even if he might point out that he sees it as absurd.

I just really wish he had fallen in love with his D&D self again and gone back to the gaming store to play.

#1: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

I’m a big fan of Patton Oswalt.  I love his stand-up and his gamer geek on Reno 911.  The Comedians of Comedy is a great look into stand-up with a nice bit about comic book addiction thrown in.

Oswalt is smart and the cadences and rhythms of his stand-up translate nicely into Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.  He loves reading and he loves words and you can tell.

This book is a fun mix of memoir, fiction, humor, comics and much more.  There are comedic bits that probably wouldn’t work as part of a stand up routine but are wonderful in print.  I enjoyed the different genres throughout the book and how they all overlap to show who he is as a writer, comedian and regular person doing regular things.

Every generation has several defining moments.  I can only imagine what it was like before and after cars.  Before and after the interstate highway system.  Before and after the polio vaccine.  Before and after NASA.

Oswalt chooses his, which I’m also a part of:

Maybe that’s what makes my generation unique – the one that remembers before MTV and after…and then before the Internet and after.  The generation I see solidifying itself now?  They were born connected – plopped out into the late nineties, into the land of Everything That Ever Was Is Available from Now On.

I like that last bit.  We live in a country and a world where it is possible that everything will be available to everyone as long as they can get on the Internet.  What with the before and after be for the next generations?

A fun read with a nice mix.  I hope he will continue writing books and I need to pay more attention to the articles that he’s publishing in various media.  Luckily I have the Internet.