Saturday, February 03, 2007

On Fiction, Computers and the Construction of a Geek

When I was ten years old I had a nasty case of bronchitis. Staying home for several days from school I became extremely board with television and in all likelihood a royal pain in my mother's ass. In part out of curiosity with what I'd do with it and in part out of desperation to get me out of her hair she planted me firmly on the couch and place a copy of The Hobbit in my hands.

Ten is a tender age where reality is starting to creep into play and the magic of the world starts swirling around the bath drain of life. Unfortunately most of my metaphors went down there too. When my mom gave me the book she told me that it's a great story written by an Oxford Professor. Somewhere on the vague edges of my consciousness I knew Oxford was in England, it was old and it was prestigious. Strong stuff.

I devoured that book in two days and my view of the world changed forever. If some guy from Oxford (don't worry, later in my life I learned a lot more about Tolkien and respect him as a linguist, medievalist and all around father of modern fantasy) could take this stuff seriously then why couldn't I? I wasn't quite sure what to make of it but I wanted to get me some more hobbits. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would have to wait until my early teens though as it was a bit too dense for me when I was ten.

At about that same time I hove myself down the street to a yard sale where some poor kid's mother was selling all of his Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books. On a whim (and for $0.25 each) I bought the original Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual. I devoured those too. My biggest problem was finding someone to play the game with.

Eventually I talked my friend into a few solo adventures, which we had while he was working at his Church rectory answering the door. This not only served as my entry into gaming, but also my entry into priests as my family wasn't at all religious. the gaming was fun and damn those priests could drink.

A year later I was having trouble reading in school. Several teachers thought I was lazy but really who wants to read Judy Bloom when there are frickin hobbits to be looked into and dragons to slay? I think again out of desperation one teacher took my by the hand and deposited me in the library with a copy of a book called Dragonsong by Anne McCaffery in my hands.

I'm not sure but I think my first case of puppy love may have been with Menolly, the put upon young girl/harper from the series.

After this there was no turning back. I started branching out and read through most of the SciFi and Fantasy books in my local library. In the mid 80's right around the time I was heading into high school I came across perhaps one of the most influential works of fiction I've read. Ender's Game.

No, it's not the best book in the world. Yes it's something of a cliché now. Remember though, this was the first year it was published and I was shocked at how clear the characters were. Here were a bunch of kids forced into a situation they didn't necessarily want to be in. They were smart, put upon, bullied and the saved the goddamn world. Hell! I want to save the world! At least, I did at 14. The fact that Card seemed to be writing not just about kids, but too kids and he did it without sounding the least bit condescending, well that really struck a chord with me.

That and I really enjoyed the bits when Ender hacked his desk (computer) and the other subsystems. At about this time I was also making horribly simple, wonderfully awful computer games in Basic on my Atari. Except for the bit about being a genius, saving the world from alien invaders, learning how to lead armies, being in space and having a psychopathic brother I was Ender.

Right there. Thats moment when I finished reading Ender's Game, put the book down in my lap and gazed over at my sad little Atari 800. That's when I turned and strode down the long road to geekdom.

Of course I've flavored it with other stylings as well. I had really long hair and a really loud guitar with which I could play the shit out of an Anthrax song. But then, Anthrax was a comic book loving band. I went to school to learn about the medieval world and how to dig it up but never lost my interest in computers. In the end however it seems that a geek I became at the age of 14 and a geek I shall remain.

And just what is a geek? In my book it's someone who loves to learn, is technically inclined, has multiple interests that span from horizon to horizon, enjoys figuring things out on their own and is willing to admit when they don't have the answer provided that they can then go out and find the answer.

Doesn't sound all bad, does it?


Anonymous said...

There are quite a few parallels here in our lives (and I think most Geeks lives).
D&D, 'Puters (my first was the Timex 1000), Frazzeta Metal, Tolkien - and let's not forget Star Trek, and Comics - this is the blueprint for Geekdom.

Nice post, and it brought back alot of memories.

However, in the future I would be very careful when referring to your "entry into priests."

(insert smiley here)

Pete said...

Mostly, in my experience, "geeks" are wonderful people who are less interested in what other people think about them, and more interested in what they're capable of learning to do.

Of course, there are also those nerds/geeks who are loudmouthed arrogant sumbbeeches, who make me want to apologize on behalf of the rest of the comic-book-star-trek-video-game world.