The Short Version: Maybe you’ve never seen Star Wars or read Harry Potter, never imagined you were running from the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark or solving a mystery with your deerstalker cap. But chances are, you’ve got a bit of geek in you – we all do. Ryan Britt definitely does and he sets out to consider as much of geekdom as he can in this debut collection.
The Review: I don’t know if you’ve figured it out yet, but I’m a geek. Always have been, probably always will be. To some extent, I think it might have something to do with the fact that I look up at the stars at night (or at this great Hubble Ultra Deep Field photo, on nights when the light pollution is too much) and am never not amazed by the possibilities there. Ditto the possibilities when my imagination just runs away with itself and I get lost inside.
And there has been something of a geek renaissance in the early days of this latest century – perhaps due to the fact that the year 2000 always looked like, well, the future. And while the future might not be the one we’ve been promised, it is sure as hell interesting and those of us who were promised a more exciting future have grown up to wonder “well, what’s stopping us?” and so now here we are: over ten years into a renewed Doctor Who, heading into Phase Three of a massive Marvel cinematic universe where the films/tv shows are actually… pretty good…, and where the most astounding minds working in any field today have no problem dropping a little Star Trek love or writing an arc of a comic book.
So it should come as no surprise, of course, that a renewed interest in geekery should also come with a renewed examination of what geekdom means. Enter Ryan Britt, who is not the first nor necessarily the best of the brave geek crusaders… but he’s one of the most important because, when you read his work, he sounds like you or me. I had the privilege of talking to him for the upcoming episode of So Many Damn Books and the guy has a rapacious intellect, constantly seeking new pop culture to internalize – because he just loves it so damn much. He’s not trying to be better than, or to snark at, those who love geeky stuff – rather, he makes it very clear from the start of this collection that he is just like you. Only with a book deal.
“My hyperbole is worse than my bite,” Britt says early on in the introductory essay and that’s important to know: he’s not the most modest geek you’ll ever read, by any stretch. Sometimes this does get a little trying – a comparison to Roxane Gay (bad feminist / bad geek) made me George Clooney-eye-roll – but it also stakes out a useful rhetorical position and forces you, the reader, to have an opinion one way or another. Do you agree? Great! Do you disagree? Great! But you’re not going to sit there and let the essay wash over you passively. Britt wants your engagement and he gets it, even if his methods are sometimes a little wearying.
And for all the moments that make you go “ohhhhhhkayyyyy”, there are probably twice as many moments that make you go “whoa.” like Neo. Consider Ringo Starr as the Frodo of popular music – because Pete Best was the Bilbo. The analogy seems thin at first, but Britt builds it out and makes you see just how important Frodo was to popular culture/geekdom in the same way that the Beatles, with Pete Best, might not’ve ever been THE BEATLES. And the title essay, which explains a universe-wide thing about Star Wars (that they’re all functionally illiterate and the general galactic society has moved to solely audio-visual storytelling/communication), starts out as a funny joke and turns into a reflection not just on various speculative universe but our own universe. Britt couldn’t’ve known that Oxford would pick an emoji as the “word of the year” (a ridiculous thing in and of itself, but that’s neither here nor there) but it sure makes his essay feel even more timely.
Oh, and it’s worth saying: that Shakespeare essay is brilliant. I won’t go into it too much, because it’s probably the one essay where I have to say JUST GO READ IT (“Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes” – although, side note, they do get mad about Midsummer and Lear remakes. And sometimes Hamlet. But that’s from a theater geek’s knowledge, so…). It’s the essay that I personally think is the best, even though it appears to be culturally less insistent than, say, “The Fans Awaken” (which is rightfully an end-of-book rallying cry). It’s the one that ties geek culture into the general culture most directly and with the strongest argument and it’s the one that you, geeky readers, should hand to friends who sneer at superhero movies or alt-universe ideas.
I do wish that Britt had gotten a bit more personal, that we’d gotten to see a bit more of HIM as opposed to his cultural consumptions. The “No, Luke, Captain Kirk is Your Father” essay was deeply personal and I liked getting to know Britt a little bit better through it – and wanted just one or two more essays like that, so that I could have a sense of who this guy was beyond his geeky knowledge. But perhaps that’ll do in his next collection.
Rating: 4 out of 5. I started out a little wary – that hyperbole sure did strike hard in the early going – but Britt’s lazer-sharp focus on all things geeky makes for a collection of essays that demands you feel something. If you disagree with him, that’s okay! Good, even! Because it carries the conversation and the culture forward when we disagree, when we say “well, wait, I think this” – and that’s what Britt himself is doing. “Wait, no, I think this” and then he backs it up, Jar Jar Binks candy and tight Dracula pants and all.