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Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci – Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

September 10, 2010

107. Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (2009)

Length: 412 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Short Stories

Started: 25 August 2010
Finished: 28 August 2010

Where did it come from? Bought from amazon.
Why do I have it? I first heard about it from John Green’s blog and immediately put it on my wishlist. After no one got it for me for Christmas or my birthday, despite the sheer awesome appropriateness of it, I realized that sometimes a girl’s gotta do for herself, y’know? So I bought it as a “Happy Tuesday” present for myself. :)
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 24 August 2010.

Forget what you heard
about blondes; it’s the geeks who
really have more fun.

Overall Summary, Review, and Recommendation: How do you know if Geektastic is a book you should read? Let me toss out some names: Stormtroopers. Lothlorien. The Brontë sisters. Dr. Frank-n-Furter. Chaotic Neutral. Buffy Summers. Daleks. Wesley Crusher. James Watson. LARPers. Peacekeepers. The Green Lantern. Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. Browncoats. Richard III. The Andromeda Galaxy. Cylons. If any of those terms elicit a reaction, you just might be a geek. This book is not only geared towards the comic-book-reading, convention-going, D&D-playing, Spock-ears-wearing variety of geek (although there’s plenty for them as well.) Rather, this book takes a broader definition of geek, as “a person who is so passionate about a given subject or subjects as to occasionally cause annoyance among others.” And, as the title suggests, this book is a celebration of geeks and geekdom in all its many and varied forms.

Still not convinced? Let me toss out some more names: John Green. Garth Nix. M. T. Anderson. Libba Bray. David Levithan. Scott Westerfeld. Interested yet? This anthology is populated with short stories by some of the best, funniest, smartest, and nerdiest YA authors out there. It’s varied enough that every story isn’t the same, but it’s all united by a common sensibility that being smart and passionate about something isn’t something to be ashamed of, but rather something that we should wear with pride.

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the heck out of this book. Some stories worked for me more than did others, but with only a few exceptions, they were all really well written, emotionally honest, and thoroughly, gleefully geeky. I got a little thrill any time I caught a reference to a fandom that I share, and even the stories that were based outside my own sphere of geekosity were relatable, plus they frequently had extraneous nerdy tidbits that I could pick up on and say “Hey, I know about that!”

I think geeks of all ages and persuasions will find something here they relate to, and something they will enjoy, particularly (but not limited to!) the sci-fi/fantasy geeks. (And, let’s be honest with ourselves. You’re reading book reviews on the internet in your spare time. You’re a geek. Congratulations, and welcome to the party!) 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Individual Summaries and Reviews:
“Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way” by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci is the story that sparked the idea for this collection, about what would happen if a Jedi (peace-loving Star Wars do-gooders) hooked up with a Klingon (ragewad Star Trek warriors) at a convention. I’ve never been to a Con, but I know enough about them, and enough about the various characters/groups of people involved, that this story made me giggle all the way through.

“One of Us” by Tracy Lynn. A cheerleader approaches a group of geeks, asking them to train her in all things geeky so that she will be better able to talk to her boyfriend, a football players who secretly likes sci-fi. A story that manages to be sweet without being sappy, which I appreciate. As a former cheerleader and current geek, I also thought the characterizations on all sides of this story were really well done.

“Definitional Chaos” by Scott Westerfeld. A guy tasked with delivering the rental money for a Con has a run-in with his ex-girlfriend on the way, in which they argue the finer points of morality, relationships, and D&D character alignments. Not what I was expecting from Westerfeld at all; which I guess once again goes to show his range. This story is kind of strangely neo-noir-ish and cerebral, and also the one that I think relies the most heavily on pre-existing geek knowledge (in this case, Dungeons and Dragons-based). However, despite my very limited understanding of D&D and the bizarreness of the story, I still found it an interesting read.

“I Never” by Cassandra Clare is the first of two stories in this volume that deal with meeting an online acquaintance in real life. It involves a girl who has been exchanging in-persona love letters with another character in an online role-playing game, but when she goes to a player meet-up, the boy on the other end is not exactly what she expected. I think this is my favorite story in the collection, as I’m apparently a sucker for teen romance. Pretty predictable, but sweet and with spot-on tone nevertheless.

In “The King of Pelinesse” by M. T. Anderson, a boy finds a letter from his favorite comic-book author… but it’s a letter to his mother. He goes to visit the author, but what he finds when he meets him is not what he had expected. This one threw off a bit at first, since all of the other stories up to this point had been set in the present day, whereas this one is set in a time of pulp paperbacks and pay phones. It’s also the only comics-geek story in here, and it’s not what I was expecting. Well-written, just… surprising.

“The Wrath of Dawn” by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith is a war-cry for under-appreciated little siblings everywhere, a la Dawn Summers, Buffy’s magically-appearing and much-reviled younger sister. I liked this one’s concept, and its execution, but it was too short; things happened too quickly and without enough time to properly build them up.

“Quiz Bowl Antichrist” by David Levithan is the story of the English geek who is on his school’s Quiz Bowl team as an alternate to the regular players, who consider English questions beneath them. This may be an effect of reading this too soon after Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but ye gods, David Levithan sure can write bitchy, bitter, closeted gay boys, huh? The impressive thing is that as horrible as his main characters can be, you still can’t help but cheer for them, and they always manage to find their redemption somehow.

“The Quiet Knight” by Garth Nix is about a LARPer who is more comfortable in his role-playing identity than he is in his real life. Another one that I liked a lot. It’s short but to the point, and relatable to anyone who’s ever wished they could be someone else for a little while.

“Everyone But You” by Lisa Yee involves a baton twirler who moves to a new school where school spirit is suddenly the opposite of cool. My least favorite story, by far. The writing didn’t do anything for me, the characterizations and dialogue felt flat, and the whole thing just seemed unrealistic and overblown.

“Secret Identity” by Kelly Link is one of the longest stories in the book, and another one of my less-favorite entries. It’s also about an online relationship meeting up in real life and not going as planned, but it’s also the only story that’s not set in the real world, but rather in a version of the real world in which superheroes are real. At least, I think so? This story left a lot of things unexplained, both in the worldbuilding and in the actual story itself, and it never really brought it all together satisfactorily, despite the many pages it had in which to do so.

“Freak the Geek” by John Green is by far the least John-Green-like piece of John Green’s writing that I’ve ever read. For one, it’s narrated by a GIRL! (I’ll give you a minute to get over your shock…) Two unpopular girls have been marked as the targets of a school ritual called “Freak the Geek” by the rest of their classmates. It doesn’t quite have the sparkle or the humor of Green’s other work, but it certainly had the same emotional resonance and snappy dialogue as I’ve come to expect.

“The Truth About Dino Girl” by Barry Lyga is about a paleontology geek who just wants the cool kids – in particular, her biology lab partner and his perfect girlfriend – to like her, but only slowly realizes that the never will. I started out loving this story (I mean, she’s a biology nerd! How can I resist?), and then the ending just utterly dropped the ball. Lessons in “How to turn a sympathetic character and relatable story into something awful and morally repellent,” the line forms here.

“This Is My Audition Monologue” by Sara Zarr is what the title promises: an audition monologue from a drama geek who is sick of working tech, and just wants to be on the stage. This is one of those interesting pieces where I immediately recognize the main character, and also immediately want to throttle her a bit until she lightens the heck up already.

“The Stars at the Finish Line” by Wendy Mass is a story about two would-be astronauts who have been competing with each other since grade school… even though he would rather be her romantic interest than her academic rival. This is the story that cemented that the problems of geekdom are universally applicable. I can name maybe three or four constellations, total, and have next to no interest in astronomy, but I thought this story was great (however, see above re: my fondness for teen romance.)

“It’s Just a Jump to the Left” by Libba Bray involves the trials and tribulations of being fourteen, set against the trials and tribulations of attending weekly showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like a lot of the other stories in here, this is very different than Libba Bray’s other work. I spent part of it going “…really?” and “oh my god, they’re fourteen!”, but the other part of it remembering the pain and rawness of being fourteen, so in balance I think it worked.

In between each story there are cute one-page comics illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Hope Larson on topics like “How to Cheat Like a Nerd” (“Write own novel to write book report on”) and “What Your Lunch Table Status Means.”

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy, The Electrical Book Cafe, In Between the Pages, A Patchwork of Books, Reading Rants, Things Mean a Lot
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It didn’t matter which one of us had married a rival Dungeon Master (that would be Holly) or lived for six weeks in the line for Star Wars (that would be Cecil), the moment that we met one another, we knew instantly that we were of the same tribe.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 115: “It was not until the final moon had risen over Brondevoult, lighting the carnage with its spectral dweomer, that Caelwin, called the Skull-Reaver, saw that the battle was won, the anthrophidians defeated, so he could at last lower his incarnadined blade and cease his work of destruction.” – The magical aura on an enchanted item; or more broadly, the aura of a magic spell having been cast while active.
    .

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 7:31 am

    Isn’t being a geek great? Oh, fandom, you strange, strange beast. <3

    My little cousin bought this collection from my favorite bookstore, but I didn't even look at the authors listed! I enjoyed Garth Nix's novels and one of his short stories (collected in the first Firebirds anthology), and his one here sounds great. I just might have to pick this one up…

    • September 10, 2010 9:48 am

      Omni – Garth Nix’s book of short stories (Across the Wall) also has some really good pieces, if you haven’t read it.

      I’ve been wanting the Firebirds anthologies for a long time – probably even longer than I’d been wanting this one – but TBR-pile-related guilt has kept me from buying them.

  2. September 10, 2010 9:10 am

    I had the same problem with this book – it was on my wish list and no one bought it for me! I’m hoping my family will rectify that this Christmas as it sounds like such a wonderful read.

    • September 10, 2010 9:54 am

      *marks down a note for when it comes time to make Secret Santa suggestions*

  3. September 10, 2010 9:32 am

    Even geekier than Quiz Bowl = Certamen, which is like Quiz Bowl for Latin. I was awesome at it. Perfectly unbeatable at word-root and mythology questions in particular.

    This sounds great! I like the idea of the Dawn story. I never understood why people hated her so! My sisters and I are all very fond of Dawn, accepting that (like all of them) she can sometimes be a bit annoying. It’s Kennedy we all hated. :p

    • September 10, 2010 10:04 am

      Jenny – Oh, that is geeky! I don’t speak Latin, but I think the etymology and mythology parts would be something I could do at least tolerably well at.

      I never hated Dawn either. She could get annoying, for sure, but season 5 was so great, and her storyline was part of that, so how could I hate her? Kennedy, on the other hand… ugh. Actually, during season 7, I was too busy being annoyed by Buffy’s alternating speechifying and sulking about how hard it is to be her to spare much annoyance for anyone else.

  4. September 10, 2010 10:13 am

    I’m not sure that book is geared toward me, but I’m interested in it because of all the great authors. I’m glad to see you loved it!

    • September 14, 2010 1:07 pm

      bermudaonion – It’s definitely worth it for the authors… plus I think that anyone who has ever felt like an outsider for whatever reason will be able to find something to relate to.

  5. runningshadow permalink
    September 10, 2010 10:21 am

    Aaah! A book that celebrates geekdom! I sooo need to get my hands on this. I love your review, and all the stories seem very interesting, I Never and Quiz Bowl Antichrist in particular. I, too, am a sucker for teen romance. :)

    • September 14, 2010 1:08 pm

      runningshadow – I never would have pegged myself as a huge teen romance fan, until I realized that my favorite stories in anthologies were always the ones with the sweetest romances. Ah well.

  6. September 10, 2010 8:37 pm

    I think I’m more of a nerd. :)

    But seriously, I could never figure out the difference between a nerd, geek, or dork. I just know I’m not a dweeb! Hahaha, see there I am being a dork.

    I love the title of this book but unfortunately am not a geek in that way. Still. I heart John Green.

    • September 14, 2010 1:11 pm

      Christina – The way I always heard/used it was that geeks are people who are super-passionate about something outside the norm, but they’re not necessarily smarter than anyone else, whereas nerds are the high academic achievers. Using that definition, though, at least a handful of these stories are Nerdtastic, rather than Geektastic. In practice, though, I think there’s a fair amount of overlap. :)

  7. September 15, 2010 6:40 pm

    This is the second positive review I’ve read for this book, so I’m adding it to my ever-growing TBR :)

    • September 20, 2010 9:11 am

      Emily – I feel the pains of the fast-expanding wishlist/TBR pile, but this one’s worth it!

  8. September 18, 2010 12:31 pm

    Normally I am not a huge short story fan, but this was really well done! I hope they do it again!

    • September 20, 2010 9:11 am

      Kailana – Oh, I didn’t even thing about the possibility of a Geektastic 2, but I’d snap that up in a heartbeat!

Trackbacks

  1. Reflection on September reading list | A Can of Corn or Something
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