Sunday, May 15, 2011

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd - In which I learn that reviewing collections of short stories is a challenge and give up without trying.

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd HerdGeektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd,
edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci
Little Brown and Co.: Boston, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-00809-9
This month my book club read Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, a collection of short stories by a variety of YA authors.  And as I am well overdue for a review, I figured it would be a good one, especially post-club meeting group-think.  But you know what?  It is not easy to review a book of short stories.  Why?  All the stories are so different!  Sure, there is a greater goal.  But it’s kind of like going into the fruit aisle in a grocery store to evaluate it and being all “Yes, I see that you have something in common. You are all fruit.” But you’re still looking at apples and oranges.  And some people like oranges better than they like apples.  So I’m doing away with formal review format for this guy and just telling you some thoughts.  I will be brief, and then more in-depth after the jump, where there may be SPOILERS.  I hate spoilers!  You have been fairly warned!  Regardless, this is a fun book, and frankly it’s a switch up in format to be able to read 15-20 pages and have everything end so you can take a break and move on to a totally different topic.   I recommend it!
Thoughts about the whole book, in bullet format because I like bullets (not the real ones): 
·      There is a wide variety of geekdom represented here.  It is a veritable spectrum, from high, convention attending geekery, to high school theatre geekery, to scholastic geekery.  I personally enjoyed the spectrum, and as one book club participant pointed out, it was important.  It acknowledges the humanity behind geekery!  While sure, there are varying levels of commitment, we are ALL geeks in our own way, whether we attend conventions in our Storm Trooper uniforms, spend a lot of time fondling comic books, or spend hours struggling to perfect the ultimate brownie recipe.  That person looking at you in the mirror?  Huge geek. 
·      This book is HEAVY in the romance department.  It was something that I didn’t realize when reading it, but once someone brought it up, it was hard to avoid it.  Most stories involve romance or crushes.  Which, perhaps, is a device to tell of an important moment in the lives of the characters, as opposed to them being geeky at whatever they are geeky at.  Because an object in motion is so much more interesting than one at rest.  Physics.  Laws of.   Boom, I just scienced you.  But there are ways other than romance that an object can be in motion, YA authors.  But I still liked it, so not a major complaint.
·      Apparently only the paperback version has a glossary, and only a short one at that.  I would have appreciated a glossary at times, and or a heads up as to what some of the stories were about.  I didn’t know Scott Westerfeld’s Dungeons and Dragons story was about D&D.  I thought it was online gaming!  In short, while I got some things, I’m admittedly not down enough with high geekery to understand all of it.  Help the non-initiated out!  You’re only as strong as your weakest reader.  I did, however, really enjoy stories where I learned about aspects of high geekery I never knew about, like Cassandra Clare’s “I Never”. 
·      In a couple of places I wasn’t sure about the gender of characters.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one, as we talked about it at book club!  It was always cleared up, but I still think a few (“Definitional Chaos” & “The Stars at the Finish Line” could have gone Sapphic with no problem, considering that's what I thought was going on until a male pronoun was used.  Food for progressive thought, YA authors!)
·      I really enjoyed the comics that separated the chapters.  They were almost all witty and well drawn!
·      It’s a little weird when the authors you expect to have some of the best stories let you down!  And let me down some did, while others went on to shine and steal the show.  Onto the possible spoiler section! 

o   “Quiet Knight”:  My favorite story in the whole book, “Quiet Knight,” by Garth Nix, is one that I was prejudiced against in the same way I’ve been prejudiced against his books.  I don’t know why!  I’ve just never had an overwhelming or even whelming urge to pick them up.  But day-yum if I’m not still thinking about Tony.  I want to know more about him!  What a fascinating character. 
o   “Definitional Chaos”: Scott Westerfeld disappointed me in that I had literally NO idea what was going on, whether or not we were in the real world, and what species of geek we were dealing with until pretty much my book club, when it turned out that my assumption that they were online gaming was false.  It seemed like it would lend itself to a longer format with more ease than a shorter story. 
o   “Freak the Geek”: John Green, what happened here?  I was more excited for his story than probably any other one author.  Dis. A. Point.  It really felt phoned in!  Sure, it was simple, and in that sense elegant.  But it really started off going somewhere and then just kind of ended. 
o   “Secret Identity”: Why was this story SO LONG?  Seriously, Kelly Link.  It took forever to get into, and then forever to end.  I was over it by like page 20.  And there were still 30 pages to go.
o   “The Truth About DinoGirl”:  Who saw that coming?  Barry Lyga did (because he wrote it, obvi.).  This one gets on the favorite list even though I hated the ending.  Holy the punishment did NOT match the crime.   I’m torn between thinking she is an extremely naïve character and or this is a skilled case of latently realizing that you may have misjudged a character based on what you wanted them to be, not what they are.  The title makes me inclined to believe that it is the later, and like with “Quiet Knight”, I’m left wondering what becomes of this (potentially horrible or just super naïve) character.
o   “It’s Just A Jump To The Left”: Libba Bray, way to break my heart so skillfully with this protagonist recognizing the end of their childhood tale.  The story felt so authentic, so rawly true that I was left wondering if there was any autobiographical content in it.  Was there?  Inquiring minds!  But well, well played. 

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