Geek Summer

The July 22nd Entertainment Weekly had a one-page article titled “2012: The Geekiest Year Yet?” The question caught my attention as I thumbed through the magazine, only I missed the “2012” part. I thought they meant 2011, and I nodded in agreement as I moved on.

Only later did I realize that I had misread the headline. Then I read the article and frowned. I'm not sure 2012 will be geekier than 2011.

Consider this:

The bestselling fiction book of the year is George R.R. Martin's sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance With Dragons. Not the bestselling fantasy book. The bestselling book. That hasn't happened since the days of Harry Potter, and unlike our friend Harry, the New York Times can't shuffle George's books out of the adult fiction category.

The Times and other lists tried to deny how well the Harry Potter series sold by creating new lists for young adult and children's books. Some analysts claimed this was because the books were aimed at children (as if that mattered: adults like me were gobbling them up like candy). Other analysts claimed the books got shuffled to the side because the books were fantasy. And considering how poorly conventional fiction lists have treated fantastic literature in the past, that analysis was at least as plausible as the children's literature analysis.

So let's talk about books and bestsellers for a minute. The hottest genre in romance? Paranormal. What does that mean? Mostly it means that there's some supernatural element to the book, but not in the way of your mother's Gothic novels. But more likely that the love interest is a vampire or a werewolf or a half-demon (apparently full demons are too scary). And if you don't read romances, but you like a bit of sex in your fantasy novels, try urban fantasy, which is paranormal romance's darker cousin. The difference between the genres—both of which are bestselling genres, btw—is pretty simple: One has a happily ever after (or happily for now) ending, and the other doesn't. The HEA ending is, of course, the romance, but the journey to get to that HEA might be just as fraught as the journey in the urban fantasy, maybe even more so.

Of course traditional fantasy is still around, or George wouldn't have hit the bestseller list, but fantasy's subgenres are providing it with a lot of much-needed competition.

Speaking of George, Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on the first book in The Song of Ice and Fire series garnered 13 Emmy nominations—including one for Best Drama, also a rarity for programming with fantasy in it.

But, fantastic television shows—and by that I don't just mean good television shows, but good television shows about the fantastic—have proliferated in the past five years. Some of that is the fact that the number of channels needing content have proliferated, but I'm sure we could do with another 50 detective/crime dramas (oh, God, please, no).

My magazine friend, Entertainment Weekly (which I started to read when it invited one of the best genre writers in the biz, Stephen King, to do a bi-monthly column), lamented in the July 29th issue that two television shows got passed up for Emmy nods at all—and both shows were sf/f. The first was HBO's True Blood, based on Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse mystery novels, and the other was Fox's Fringe, based on all those weird B-movies from decades past. (Okay, I don't really know if that's what Fringe was initially based on, but it seems like it to me).

I pay attention to the Emmys in this context only because the Emmys are given by the Establishment who, in the past, ignored any television show with a smidge of other-worldliness. Now, sf/f television shows get discussed by the snooty as if the genre shows are as important as the other shows—quite a mind-boggler for me.

Since we're discussing Entertainment Weekly, let's discuss one of their reasons for claiming 2012 will be geekier (more geeky?) than 2011: the upcoming Avengers movie, which will combine all the superheroes from the previous Marvel superhero movies into one big thrillfest.

Apparently EW ignores the fact that we had two Marvel superhero movies in 2011 to introduce us to some of those heroes—Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. More importantly, both of those films were good. Then there was the X-Men: First Class film which is my favorite superhero movie of the summer by a smidge (and only because the characterization was so good that it made me cry), and Green Lantern, which I didn't see but which all of my comic book fan friends say was a lot better than the word of mouth indicated.

Another movie based on comics which I plan to see Real Soon Now, Cowboys and Aliens, has been the film I've looked forward to since the ads began because of the Bond meets Indie tagline. Yes, I mean Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford in one film. Yes, that means girls need eye candy too. But more than that, (and honestly, Ford is getting a little too grizzled for eye candy; too bad he doesn't have the benefit of a mellifluous voice like Sean Connery) the juxtaposition of the words “cowboy” and “alien” had me at hello.

I blew off Green Lantern so I could see Super-8, because I was beginning to feel a movie-crunch. Too many films, too little time. And Super-8 is a marvelous homage to the B-movies of the 1950s. Even better is the short film within a film, which you see during the credits, a gift to geeks everywhere.

And of course, the movie that broke box office opening day records, a movie I also haven't seen yet, the last Harry Potter flick. If that's not a major flick feast for geeks nothing is. Proof isn't just in the record-breaking box office, it's also in the fact that at every single theater showing the film, someone showed up in costume. That's the mark of geekness everywhere.

More geeky stuff from the summer of 2011? Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which uses many of the concepts from the Tim Powers novel to fuel the Johnny Depp extravaganza. And the Torchwood: Miracle Day mini-series which is, bar none, the best science fiction I've seen this year. I get creeped out by each episode, and I find myself thinking about it for days afterwards. The extrapolation of an sf future from one little change is frightening, and the risks the writers (and actors [yes, you, Bill Pullman]) are taking are spectacular.

Let's not even discuss the fact that Comic-Con has become so important that it gets covered in The New York Times and on all of the major network news casts. Entertainment Weekly, no dummies there, do a special Comic-Con issue, as does every single comic book company, and many publishing companies. Cowboys and Aliens held its premiere at Comic-Con, which tells you just how important geek cred is. When George Lucas premiered his little film at Comic-Con in 1976, no one knew what Comic-Con was and everyone who knew what Lucas was doing wondered why the man bothered airing the unfinished film to a convention of a few hundred people. Now, he looks like a prescient genius. Then, he was a guy trying to get the right audience to see some little insignificant genre film called Star Wars.

I can't even tell you what's going on in the game industry because it has gotten so big that I can't keep track. Every now and then, I see an ad for what I think is a movie, only to discover that it's a game I can buy for my X-Box. And speaking of X-Box, in Cee Lo Green's summer hit song, “Forget You,” Green says his former girlfriend is X-Box, while he's Atari, and we're all supposed to understand the comparison. The nifty thing is that we do.

None of this even pretends to examine the gadget wars. In the first year of its existence, the iPad penetrated 16% of American households, something that took both color television and the cell phone nine years to do. The iPad initiated a tablet war (I love that phrase) so half the commercials on television are about some flat-screened gadget you can hold in your hand and get information from quickly . . . like the devices Captain Picard used to have to glance at while doing his job on the Starship Enterprise.

Then there is the news itself, from the weird weather which makes every single newscast sound like the opening five minutes of a disaster movie to the scuttling of the space shuttle program, which has folks wringing their hands about supplying the International Space Station (three words I love to type), which actually makes it all sound like we are in the future.

And compared to the monochromatic world I grew up in forty-some years ago, we are. This is geek heaven.

2012 might outdo us on sheer geekness, but that upcoming year is going to have to work hard to beat this summer. In fact, if 2012 gets much geekier than 2011, then I'm going to have to give up sleep. Because I barely have enough time to maintain my geek cred right now.

In fact, if it weren't for mainstream magazines like Entertainment Weekly, I might not have any geek cred at all.

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