I’m not dead — but I will be published

I’ve been quiet of late here, and not for lack of things to say.

However, the last few weeks I’ve been focusing more on my fiction writing. I sold my first short story (“Last Tango in Gamma Sector”) last week, which will be published at Crossed Genres on June 1st in their issue on “Gadgets & Artifacts.”

In addition, I’ve wrapped up line edits on my New Weird Superhero novel Shield & Crocus and have started working on a synopsis while creating a list of agents to query.

This 21st Century Geek is a maker as well as a consumer of culture, and I’m trying to find a better balance of input/consumption vs. output/creation.

More pop culture ramblings will come soon, as we’re amidst a variety of season finales in TV-land.

MFA Poet turned SF writer’s ‘Apology’ for going genre.

i09 linked to an essay by Science Fiction writer Alan DeNiro (who has an MFA in poetry), titled “Why I Write Science Fiction: An Apology.”

The essay itself is hosted at Bookspot Central.

Read both of those? Great. Here’s some analysis of the essay and the i09 commentary.

DeNiro’s MFA means that he has a serving of alphabet soup that serves as cultural capital in the ‘literary’ fiction world. But he’s also a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop (sister-workshop to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, of which I am a graduate), which grants him cultural capital in the speculative fiction world. DeNiro is a crossover writer, and by his own admission, writes in a mode that might be more accurately described as slipstream or interstitial. But he’s identifying as a science fiction writer, which means he’s on my radar.

Landscape as character — DeNiro talks about how in sf, landscape acts as a character unto itself. It does, sometimes literally as he says, but also figuratively. But setting/landscape is a character in any kind of fiction. Setting is, however, one of the major tools for commentary/speculation in fiction, often and sometimes expertly-used in science fiction/fantasy/horror/speculative fiction. The setting of Battlestar Galactica is clearly speculative, and much of the story’s drama comes out of the cultural, historical, and technological differences between that setting and our own world. But in another way, the stories of Battlestar are very familiar.

Literalization of the metaphor — The i09 article gives credit to DeNiro as follows:

[DeNiro] sets out a few building blocks of a new theory of appreciating science fiction. For example, he talks about the way in which science fiction turns the metaphorical into the real, and allows the author’s observations to become more vivid or heightened

The idea of SF as a literalization of the metaphor is not new to DeNiro.  Samuel R. Delaney established years ago that SF allows for the literalization of the metaphorical, and thus, that critical tool is already established in the SF scholarship community.  It is a valuable one, but not one new to DeNiro, though Delaney is already a member of the SF community embraced by the Academy.

DeNiro references Ursula LeGuin (another Literarily-accepted SF writer), who in an introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness said “I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing.” — SF does not need to predict the future when it can comment on the present.  Not all SF is written to that intent, but the conventions and possibilities of the genre allow for writers to bring in any number of strange elements to contextualize a story, create a setting, and create a narrative environment that allows for a persuasive and entertaining commentary on the world we live in.

Suvin and Cognitive Estrangement

SF critic Darko Suvin spoke of science fiction as a genre of cognitive estrangement. The difference between our world and the world(s) of Battlestar would be part of the estrangement, but it is matched, tempered by the commonalities, identifiable by cognition.

This interplay between cognition and estrangement can be seen as a continuum, with Cognition/Similarity on one end and Estrangement/Difference on the other. A story could be plotted on this continuum, identifying the balance between elements/aspects of the setting/story that are similar to our own experience and those which produce estrangement as we reach across a cognitive gap to understand those differences.

Some SF shows are more familiar/close to our own setting, things like the comic DMZ, Y: The Last Man, or PD James’ Children of Men.  Those kind of narratives make one extrapolation from our world and then examines the social/political/etc. results of a world with that change.  The audience is only asked to swallow one new thing (or Novum), be it a new American civil war, the end of human fertility, or a virus that kills male mammals.  The degree of estrangement is low, and readers can easily identify with the world (Much more Cognition than Estrangement)

On the other end are narratives where a great number of things are different, and readers cling to the elements that are the same as a way to understand that world.  This would cover New Weird stories like China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, Jeff VenderMeer’s The City of Saints and Madmen, Post-Modern genre re-combinations like Astro City,  etc. In these worlds, the reader is asked to believe a great many things to immerse themselves in the story, like a world with a handful of unknown non-human species, magical-technological transmogrification as a tool of punishment, dream-eating monsters, etc. (Much more Estrangement than Cognition)  With High-Estrangement stories, the New Things (Nova) in the world create a mood and establish thematics, enter into a dialogue with established genre tropes, and more.  High-Estrangement stories can provide a high barrier to entry for readers, often requiring a wide knowledge of genre tropes to fully understand what is going on in a story.

The genre label of science fiction or speculative fiction applies to stories from throughout this continuum.  Stories with less Estrangement and more Cognition tend to be those more recognized by the Literary Establishment as Real Literature (Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union).  This seems to be the kind of SF that DeNiro himself writes.  DeNiro also acknowledges the fact that valorizing one sub-section of fiction over others is foolish, but for all that DeNiro admits having ‘gone genre’, he seems to be more in the slipstream/magic realism area.

More important to me is the fact that the title of the essay is still ‘An Apology,’ assuming that one must apologize for writing speculative fiction if one is to maintain Literary Cred.  For all that SF has gained in recognition from the Academy, the acceptance seems to thus far extend mostly to the ‘more realistic’ High-Cognition, Low-Estrangement parts of SF.

I’m glad that writers are identifying the literary and ideological possibilities of SF, and pointing out that ‘realistic fiction’ is a oxymoron.  Each genre of fiction has its own qualities, possibilities and limitations, just as do genres of music, graphic art, dance, and more.  It is again telling though, that in this case DeNiro feels he must ‘apologise’ for it, though I agree with him in hoping that in a few decades or less, no one will have to apologise for choosing to write within any genre.

Battlestar Galactica 4×11 — Sometimes a Great Notion

Battlestar is back, and the WTF? factor is high.  Here’s my breakdown of the episode, Spoilers Galore.

Big things:

  1. Starbuck finds her own wreckage, with her fin #, and a corpse with her dog tags.
  2. The Final Four all have memories of living on Earth.
  3. Dee breaks down and commits suicide after one last happy memory with Lee.
  4. Tigh flashes back to Earth and sees Ellen, leading him to identify her as the Fifth Cylon.
  5. Earth is uninhabitable, and the remains discovered there are all genetically Cylon, accompanied by Centurion-style Cylons unlike those made by the humans of the 12 colonies or the Cylons they made.


1. This fits in with the fact that the Raptor that Starbuck arrived with after her dissapearance was fresh-off-the-line clean.  This leads us to believe that Starbuck is a Cylon, or that she was somehow cloned by the Cylons, based off of the tissue samples they could have taken during the time she was held at the farm during “The Farm.”  This is of course all interpolation.  Leoban is shocked by the revelation, as it disproves/disagrees with his visions.  His religious certainty is shaken, and the connection between him and Starbuck is now in question again.

2.  From Tyroll walking the marketplace to Anders remembering playing “All Along the Watchtower,” this fits in line with my reading that that the humans of Earth are descended from the intermarriage of Cylons and humans who settle on Kobol and then leave for the thirteen colonies, as a part of the cycle (hence “all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again”) — This would allow for our civilization as is now to be a part of this cycle, between when the 13th tribe reaches Earth and when nuclear war destroys civilization on the planet.

The Final Five would then be the people who remember their previous incarnations elsewhen in the cycle, who are ‘Cylons’ in that they are the descendents of the re-connected species.

3. Dee’s suicide is used as the personalization of the collective despair expressed by the fleet after being let down by Earth.  The people had held up hope for years and years, thinking ‘if we make it to Earth, it will all be ok.’ — and now that Earth has been removed as the great hope, people’s defenses are down and they’re crashing.  Everyone of the survivors have PTSD, first from the destruction of the colonies, likely again from the events on New Caprica, and many things in between and after.

Dee had already lost her connection to Lee, before that she lost Billy, on top of the destruction of the colonies.  She showed signs of breaking down throughout the episode, from the return trip from Earth to speaking to Hera to the musing about the picture from when she was five.  And then, after one more happy moment with Lee, she takes her own life.  This is the personalized version of the despair rampant throughout the fleet that we can see on Galactica with people breaking down in the hallways and from the graffiti.

4.  Ellen was originally suspected as being a Cylon because of her mysterious appearance in the fleet, then discounted because she was too human-ly screwed up.  And by the time she let Saul kill her as they departerd New Caprica, she had achieved a measure of redeption.  And now by revealing her as the fifth Cylon (confirmed in the ‘next episode’ preview), they open up the question of another instance of her being alive or able to be activated.  It also makes for more of a reason to stay on Earth for archaeological excavation to uncover more information and/or unlock more memories of the Four that remain.

5.  This supports my ideas from 2, positing that once humans and Cylons intermingle, they will just distinct enough from humans now so as to register as ‘Cylon’ (ie. ‘Other’) — But I imagine that Hera and Nicholas, our two known human-Cylon crossbreeds would register as ‘Cylon’ under the same analyses.

Next episode — Vice President Zarek makes another power play, looking to divide the fleet.  Meanwhile, people try to figure out what the hell to do now that Earth is no longer the safe End Point.  Cavill’s fleet is still out there, meaning that there will be more chances for explosions and dogfights and such.

On the Horizon — Mid-season

Here are three speculative and/or genre-inclined shows coming up soon in TV-land. Dollhouse, Castle, and Kings.


Joss Whedon’s anticipated new tv drama, starring Eliza “Faith” Dushku as Echo, one of a number of ‘Dolls’ — people who have had their memories wiped, live in an idyllic but infantile ‘Dollhouse’ facility, and who, when they become ‘Active,’ are implanted with memories and skills to serve as whatever the Dollhouse’s clients want them to be. This will allow Whedon and the show to explore Dushku’s range as a leading lady, explore the theme of memory vs. spirit/soul, exploitation, human experimentation/human trafficing, etc. The show also stars Tamoh “Helo” Penikett as James Ballard, the FBI agent who investigates the urban legend of the Dollhouse. Dollhouse has been troubled by production delays, disagreements about creative direction, and other issues, but it is on track for at least a nine-episode initial order.

Dollhouse premiers February 13th on Fox.

Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion, of Firefly and Dr. Horrible fame) is a famous best-selling mystery novelist who is tapped by the NYPD as a consultant when a copycat killer starts committing murders in the same manner as Castle’s books. This creates what seems to be a very promising meta-genre component for the series, since we’ll have Castle interpreting everything through the filter of a crime/mystery writer, and provides a variation on the ‘expert consultant protected by bad-ass detective/agent’ dynamic of shows like Fringe, The Mentalist, Numb3rs, Bones, etc.

Stana Katic (Heroes, 24, Quantum of Solace) plays Castle’s detective handler/inspiration for the protagonist for a new series of books. The show is likely to make good use of Fillion’s range, injecting comedy (From the video preview — “Did you see that? That was so cool!”) and romance (Castle asking the detective out, and her brushing him off while acknowledging the chemistry) into what seems to default to a prime-time hour-long crime procedural drama.

Castlepremiers March 9th on ABC.

An alternate-present America re-telling of the story of King David, Kings gives us David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) rescuing the son of King Silas (Ian McShane), ruler of Shiloh, a city in the Kingdom of Gilboa, David is welcomed into the court and turned into a hero of the people, wrapped up in politics and power. NBC’s promotion has highlighted the alternate-history aspects of the world, focusing on the monarchic nature of the Kingdom of Gilboa (Shiloh, the center of the story, appears similar/evocative of a New York City or the like).

UNN Breaking News

This show appears to be high-production value, since there will not have to be much in the way of SF special effects, focusing on costuming, graphic and set design to highlight the subtle but fundamental differences between our world and that of Kings. The story of King David should provide enough material for several seasons, depending on how close of a re-telling is planned and how quickly the story is to unfold. Early responses to the pilot script paint it as “bold, bizzare, fun”.

Kings premiers March 19th on NBC.

Hello world

Welcome to 21st Century Geeks, an academic blog focusing on geek cultures and media convergence.

Here are the stakes:

We are entering and/or are already in a golden age of geek culture. Geek movies continually rock the box offices (Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, Transformers, Iron Man), video games have become an immensely profitable entertainment medium embraced by the mainstream, and techno-culture is in.

Fan culture has grown and diversified, and convergence media allows for consumers to become cultural producers with wide distribution of their works, with intensely complex and thought-out works that bring into question the validity of IP and cultural ownership which is very visibly bringing copyright and IP into question. Harry Potter slash-fiction may prove to be one of the primary factors that leads to the downfall of copyright and IP laws as we know them. People who grew up in slash-writing communities move into college and go to law school and become IP lawyers years down the road. Each generation re-works the social order in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to fit their generational worldview/zeitgeist.

When the Napster Generation/Gen X/Y/Insert Catchy Generational Label Here hits the age of being able to dictate policy on these matters, we very may well have a sea change on our hands. Music distribution is already changing, especially as stockholders check the numbers and move to handing over the reins to younger execs more in tune with Web 2.0 and other 21st century marketing/business models, where attention is the commodity to be cultivated by a company. In a world where you can watch the whole first season of the smash hit Heroes online and watch one add five times instead of ten adds five times, the advertising paradigm has to change. Combine that with the rise of DVD-sales and direct-to-DVD cultural properties and we’re already in a transition.

What does that have to do with geekdom, though? Well, if we look at things like the short-lived show Firefly which was re-lit for a feature film because of intense fan engagement and DVD sales, or the direct-to-DVD Hellboy and superhero films, we’re seeing that geek media is in the foreground of these transitions in marketing strategy and cultural production. Where geeks go, the technology follows. Or where the tech goes, the geeks follow. It’s a perpetuating cycle of technological advancement and commoditization of cultural production.

As geekdom continues its ascent and moves towards the mainstream, it’s also manifesting more and more distinct subcultural markers. T-Shirts seem to be the primary display of geek style, with obscure video-game references, coding jokes, and markers of affiliation with comic characters providing the canvas for geeks to display their subcultural affiliation. Recognizing and obscure t-shirt is one of the secret handshakes of geekdom. It’s one thing to compliment someone on a Greatest American Hero t-shirt, it’s another thing to identify the Blue Sun logo and greet a fellow Browncoat and reminisce over shared love of Firefly. Geek culture is being marketed top-down and bottom up, with Geek Magazine, Hot Topic’s t-shirt lines, and in situations like online dating, with www.geek2geek.com and www.sweetongeeks.com – where the early adopters of the internet, dissatisfied with the mainstream inclination of most online dating sites, have moved to create geek-friendly dating sites, where the ability to have an intense discussion about time-travel physics or partition a hard drive are the turn-ons, and Mac vs. Pc (with/without Linux) or X-Box 360 vs. PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii are sorting questions for potential partners.

Geek culture has long been decentralized, fractured but interconnected, with cultural properties bringing their fan bases across media, across subcultures. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer follow the tv show, then pick up the collectible card game and move into another geek subculture, then stop by the comic store every other week to buy the comics. Geeks move between the member subcultures of what I call the ‘geek subcultural complex’ – basically a bunch of overlapping subcultural groups that draw from similar sources and have developed interconnections while remaining sufficiently autonomous such that one can be a geek without necessarily participating in any one of the groups, as long as they participate in others.

A superhero comic reader who plays MMOs need not be a programmer or play Dungeons and Dragons to be a geek, but their D&D playing comrades are no less geeks for eschewing MMOs and not being able to tell Captain Marvel from Captain Mar-Vell. There are many ways to be a geek, and they feed into and out of one another. Convergence culture and transmedia storytelling (ala Henry Jenkins) means that these connections are being strengthened as they are commoditized, with IP crossing media with properties like the Matrix series, which had films, anime, video games (console and massive online), comic books, and more. A fan of a world/universe will follow that cultural property across platforms and into various groups, under the rubric of their own fandom, and thus, the groups cross-pollinate. Follow the money. Or, follow the fandoms. It’s another cycle, a feedback loop.

There is lots of geek culture out there. And lots of people talking about geeks. What I hope to facilitate with this community is a place for scholars of geek culture to meet, collaborate, and draw together disparate threads of geek studies as the subculture grows and changes in the age of digital convergence and massive wars over IP/DRM/revolutions in distribution and commercialization.