If a very drowsy moviegoer nodded off during a 1973 film and woke up this summer, he might wonder how it was that geeks took over the world. Just look at some of the big moneymakers of the last few years: X-Men, Spider Man, the Matrix movies, a couple of awful Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings. On the small screen, there’s the Sci Fi Channel and the Cartoon Network, but also Star Trek spin-offs (Star Trek is still around??), series based on Tremors and Stargate. Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved so resilient that lead actress Sarah Michelle Gellar finally had to drive a stake through its heart to free up time for other projects. Philip K. Dick is hot stuff, as are Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Douglas Adams, and many other authors with geek cult followings, past and present.
You’d think the geeks would be elated at all this. But according to Matt Springer, who pays the rent by writing for the geek press (Cinescape, etc.), you would be so very wrong. Rather than delighting in their new cultural dominance, geeks are as awkward as ever and, if possible, even more insular. They were there before all these party crashers came and they aren’t about to let these “mundanes” (non-geeks) dance with their dates, unless they get a chance to insult and dump them first.
Consequently, a sense of decline has set in. At a Saturday morning panel titled “What’s Wrong With Science Fiction Today?” drunken comic store owner Toby Gordon asks, “People have really stopped dreaming, haven’t they?… There’s nothing new under the sun, of course; even I know that. But there’s nothing good under the sun anymore either. There are no beautiful dreams like Roddenberry had, or swashbuckling fantasies, like Lucas had. There’s no f—ing dreams period, except about money.” He turns the George-Lucas-you-ignorant-slut routine on its head by accusing the hung-over audience of being too easy to fork over their filthy lucre for the latest crap, just so that they can denounce it or remember when this all meant something to them.
Springer’s Unconventional is a novella about four veteran geeks who attend the 2001 Chicago Un-Con, a three-day annual explosion of “inane chatter, outrageous spending, and casual sex — or, alternately, three days of no sunlight, little sleep, and full-on submission to total geekdom.” Theo “Ham” Makrakis, Marty McAfee, Ron Davies, and the above drunken comic peddler have been attending for well over a decade, and their lives have only blipped along during that time. Ham still lives with his mom and spends all his money on comics, games, and other necessary paraphernalia. Marty and Ron both have careers and lives, but they both have the sense of lethargy, if not paralysis. Ron has a three-month deadline to propose to his long-time girlfriend or break it off; Marty wants to quit spinning his wheels and try his hand at writing full time, and ask out the little redhead girl, but he’d rather not starve or get shot down.
However, readers get the sense that change is in the drinking water. With only a brief set-up and occasional flashbacks, Springer uses most of the 30 short chapters to explore the inner lives of his odd characters as they try to figure it all out in the middle of an orgy of unreality. This time around, there are some familiar elements, certainly — the convention sex, the inane debates, the rapid fire obscure one-liners — but there is also more brutal honesty between friends. Also, Spock’s prosthetic ears, on loan from Paramount Pictures, have gone missing.
This story must have been almost as fun to write as it is to read. Several of the extreme characters are clearly attempts by Springer to cast off his own inner super villains. Ham, for instance, came so unhinged after watching The Phantom Menace that he stayed up for 30 hours, banging away on his mother’s typewriter, to produce a 42 page single-spaced memo to rival Zola’s masterpiece. Then again, Springer may not have been entirely successful in his attempts to cast out the inner geek: He dedicates the book to his fiancé, promising her that they will “live long and prosper!” Oy.