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BOOK REVIEW

'Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd'

The A-list writers are at the top of their game in this young-adult short story collection of all things nerdy.

September 05, 2009|Susan Carpenter

Nerds. Dorks. Any fanboy or girl will do. If you like cosplay, RPGs and BSG, or wish Klingon was a language option in high school, "Geektastic" is for you. And if you have no idea what any of the aforementioned even means (cheat sheet: costume role play, role-playing games, "Battlestar Galactica"; if you aren't familiar with Klingon, there is no hope), feel free to stop reading now because "Geektastic" isn't for regular book readers. It's a short story collection for those young adults (and young adults at heart) who spend most of their time staring at screens and living in fantasyland -- sci-fi fans who'll debate the merits of "Star Trek" versus "Star Wars" for hours on end and gamers who can pull themselves away from their computers long enough to read a fictional account of their lifestyles.

True to its subtitle -- "Stories From the Nerd Herd" -- "Geektastic" features the works of A-list writer-geeks who know of what they write, whether it's video games, the school drama club or astronomy class. Though some stories seem rushed and lack character development, and others presume a fluency in "Buffy" and other subjects that are too difficult to comprehend for readers who don't trip the world geektastic, the collection as a whole is high-caliber.

The best stories in this anthology are the ones that force their kid protagonists to align their fantasy lives with reality. In pieces from New York Times bestseller Cassandra Clare and Nebula Award winner Kelly Link, the stories get at the emotional heart of gamer meet-ups, when online friends meet in person for the first time and are faced with the difficulty of knowing what's real and who's truthful in a world in which everyone is pretending to be someone else.

"When we were first getting acquainted online, we sent flirty photos of ourselves to each other -- I'd take a picture of my elbow and send it to him, and he'd respond with a photo of just his left eye, or the curve of his ear. I couldn't have put a picture of his face together in my mind, but I knew he had a scar on his right thumb, and a spray of freckles across one cheek, light as powder dust. . . . Now that the rest of him is filled in around the edges I am amazed -- he looks just like I thought he would," writes Clare in "I Never."

A story by National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson shows what happens when a comic book fan meets his idol. The results aren't pretty, but they're certainly fascinating:

"R. P. Flint was not as tall as I thought he would be," writes Anderson in "The King of Pelinesse." " . . . He was dressed kind of like a writer, in a silk bathrobe, but also just in his boxer shorts, which kind of made me embarrassed. He had a lot of black hair on his chest, which also hadn't been combed.

" 'Hi,' he said. 'You have a package or something?'

"I shook my head. I didn't know what to tell him. A car drove by on the dirt road below.

"R.P. Flint nodded. He said, 'You are a disciple of the Skull-Reaver.'

"I said, 'I have the. I have all the issues. I had them.'

" 'Come inside,' said R. P. Flint."

The premise of "Geektastic" was dreamed up exactly where you'd expect for a book that traffics in costume play and comics. It was conceived amid the masses of wannabe Sailor Moons, Pikachus and Marios at Comic-Con 2007, when young adult authors Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci dreamed up the idea for a Jedi-Klingon love story -- a story the two eventually co-wrote and which kicks off the collection.

Each of the 15 stories is anchored with a bio that outlines the author's geek cred -- a point that is underscored with a pixelated avatar, rather than a picture -- and a one-page comic that doles out uber-nerd advice, such as "the best ways to stay awake for gaming" and "how to hook up at the science fair."

Is geek the new black? You'd certainly get that impression from reading this intriguing and humorous story collection.

--

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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