Review – Geektastic edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

There seems to be some mistake. According to the jacket copy, Geektastic is a celebration of “all things geeky”– Star Wars, nerdy high school clubs, etc. There must have been an error at the printing press, because in the book I picked up almost every story is about meeting boys.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who doesn’t like stories about meeting boys, the occasional girl, or coping as a teenager with the fallout of your parents’ slowly disintegrating marriage? But this collection of stories by young adult fiction authors is disappointingly repetitive and more denigrating of things geeky than celebratory.

The editors set the wrong tone from the beginning of the book with a made-up definition of “geek” that includes “a person who is so passionate about a given subject or subjects as to occasionally cause annoyance among others.” It’s a description that fits most of the characters in the book, who often talk in sitcom clichés of nerdom, going so far as to argue about Kirk and Picard and the merits of the original Battlestar Galactica as compared to the reboot. But the self-described geeks I know wouldn’t do this[1]. Much less would any of them object to a Irish guy dressed up as a Jedi hooking up with a Korean Klingon cosplayer. If anything, the clash of cultures in that scenario makes it even hotter[2].

Only four of the short stories in Geektastic portray their characters’ interests as something to be unapologetically embraced. David Levithan’s “Quiz Bowl Antichrist” is actually funny, and not in a “Hey, I laughed at that because they referenced a thing I like” way. The characters in “Antichrist” are individuals, not a hive mind of science fiction fandom.  Barry Lyga’s and Lisa Yee’s contributions also focus on characters whose outside interests are less stereotypical. These stories stand out because they’re grounded in details, not name-dropping pop cultural touchstones.

But all the stories above are centered around high school yearnings, and in that category “The Stars at the Finish Line” is the collection’s best. Wendy Mass’ story of an accidental astronomy geek is one of the few in Geektastic, along with “The King of Pelinesse” by M.T. Anderson, that feels complete. (Another unfortunate commonality among the contributions is that most read like excerpts from larger narratives. Lyga’s in particular ends without addressing the serious legal consequences of the main character’s actions.) And it’s the only example where pursuing a nerdy interest to its fullest extent doesn’t result in an awkward learning experience.

Though uneven and not entirely on message, Geektastic at least ends well. After reading Mass’ story, I didn’t feel the need to hide my hobbies in a closet. I wanted to go out and lay some science on a girl.


[1] The 2004 Sci-Fi Channel series is clearly superior.

[2] I’ve also never met a Asian-American woman who would say something about “honoring her parents and grandparents”, another regrettable WTF? that appears in the opening story.

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