Repatriation to Geekdom

My credentials for being a successful SFF geek are pretty thin right now. There are a bazillion authors I’ve never heard of, let alone read; I still don’t game (not that I’m disinterested; I know that, once started, I would never stop); my book is being published by a literary imprint, not an SFF imprint; I know very few people in the community.

It’s not so much that I was in exile as it is that I was a lonely shepherd tucked away in the mountains of Geekdom and I have now come out and am making my way nervously to the capital. The landscape has changed since the last time I was on this road.


Being a geek is now chic.

Good prose matters.

Not everyone is a white straight male.

Genres are bent.


When I was growing up, I was the only girl I knew until I was about 15 who liked SFF. I lived in a small town in western Pennsylvania. There was one bookstore, Walden’s. When I went to the bookstore, I was treated to Tolkien rip-offs, Asimov rip-offs, and the covers of the Gor books. The library was tiny. College was better, but there was so much time spent a) studying and b) growing up that my genre fiction reading tapered off.

I went into an MFA program, where I learned that genre fiction or commercial fiction was undesirable. I went into a Ph.D. program, where I learned that it wasn’t quite so bad as all that and I could do scholarly work about it and be respected.

My husband got a job, we moved across the country, I got a job, we had a kid, I stopped reading anything but picture books. Every time I browsed the SFF section of the library I saw the same old books.

Somewhere in there the internet took off, but after spending an entire day at work staring at a computer and answering e-mails, I was not tempted by the siren calls of forums. I was busy, not poor but not flush with extra cash either, and an introvert, so I never had any desire to go to cons. I went to law school. Essentially I stayed in my hut, herding my sheep.


Then I sold the book. I joined the SFWA. Now I am tweeting and reading and seeing this huge landscape that is completely new to me. I feel a bit like a hick. As a writer, the most interesting thing to me is that there is so much imaginative and non-formulaic work coming out, and it has good characters and sharp sentences. It inspires me to do more creative and experimental things with voice, plot, character. It is humbling.

As a reader, I feel overwhelmed by all the choices — although, I only know about most of these books and authors from the internet. California libraries have no money, and it’s rare that I find a book on the shelf that is one of these new and interesting ones. I can get new ones, but I have to know about them and put in a hold request. So to find new authors to read, one has to know where to get the recommendations. Word of mouth matters so much. The internet is a tremendous blessing to readers.

As a person, I’m interested in how the demographic of Geekdom has shifted. There were always women and people of color, but now they aren’t in hiding. Everyone who has seen any of the discussions about the need for diversity in SFF is going to tell me – rightly – that the field is still dominated by white guys. Sexual harassment at cons is a problem. There are people who write on forums that women’s fiction is about emotion and men’s is about action, and that’s why they will never read women’s fiction. The field still has a tremendous way to go, mostly because the human race has a tremendous way to go.

But see, 15 or 20 years ago, no one was even HAVING these discussions in the open. Women in SF were talked about, sort of, but race was not on the table at all. It’s a huge change. It’s depressing as hell to read racist and sexist comments and to see how much people are still marginalized; but the marginalized people are shouting loudly, and they are getting support from the people on the inside. Awareness of the perpetuation of the dominant culture has come out of the closet.

Related to this is the other major change in demographics – people have grown up and had kids. Playing D&D is not an act of teenage bonding against the grown-ups; it’s a family event. And reading SFF isn’t considered an adolescent phase. The kids are growing up with the idea that they are part of a community, rather than being isolated as the weird one. While there’s a certain thrill to being part of a small group, to being proud of one’s oddness, that can lead to a country-club mentality that is damaging in its ideas about exclusivity, and I think that having SFF activities becoming a normal (or at least unremarkable) part of parenting can only result in more imaginative and open-minded kids.

I’m only seeing part of the landscape, of course, and I don’t have any idea what’s hiding in the woods on the side of the road out of bowshot range. By the time I get to the capital, it might have been overwhelmed with plague or firebombed by aliens. Perhaps civil war will break out, or the thought police will triumph. On the other hand, maybe when I arrive the trade bazaar will be thriving and libraries will be more important than palaces.

Whatever the outcome, right now the journey is fun and interesting, even if occasionally nerve-wracking, and I’m glad to have come down out of the hills.