I seem to be meeting a lot of geeks lately. That sounds a little odd, but it does make sense–I’ve connected into a few different social circles that seem to attract geeks (and by the way, they all defy the stereotype about socially awkward, reclusive geeks).
It’s great fun, because we all have some of the same touchpoints, and the important ones are not the same as the important general pop culture ones. You know–Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, certain board games, certain authors. There are certain people too. Neil Gaiman is apparently The World’s Coolest Author; not just because of his books, but he personally seems to be amazing. George Takei is the Geek King of Facebook (follow him if you want to be in on all the geek memes).
And lately, Wil Wheaton is emerging as the Geek Celebrity. Not for anything in particular–just for being a geeky celebrity. I mean, besides a recurring role as himself on The Big Bang Theory, he has an online show focused on playing board games. Really.
All this made me curious. How did Wesley Crusher become the Geek Celebrity? So I read Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton. It would probably make him happy that I read it more because I’m curious about who he’s become lately than because of Wesley. I never actively disliked Wesley, but I was never much of a fan either, so that wasn’t that big a draw.
Just a Geek is a memoir, but one that covers a very narrow period. It’s a couple of years from roughly 2001-2002, and charts how Wheaton went from a washed-up celebrity trying to escape Star Trek to coming to terms with Wesley Crusher and publishing his first book. This was published in 2004 so it’s hardly the complete story of how he got to the present (obviously), but it does describe the turning point.
Some sections of the book are lifted directly from Wheaton’s blog, and the feel of the entire book is much like that. You do get the sense of Wil Wheaton sitting down to tell you about his life and his experiences. In some ways, what has stuck with me the most is the raw honesty of it all. He talks about being depressed or angry or disliking something, in a way that people (at least in public forums) usually don’t. He talks about deep positive emotions too, especially being incredibly moved by Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, stepping back on the bridge of the Enterprise–D.
If his intent was to convince people that he’s a regular guy, that’s definitely how he comes across. We usually see only a couple of visions of celebrities, and this is neither. Wheaton is not the self-destructing celebrity on the cover of Us Weekly, or the serene dispenser of wisdom that shows up on Parade. He’s just a normal guy who’s a bit geeky. Despite the title, the geekiness didn’t feel like that big of a focus to me–it was mostly “life as a struggling actor.” But he did get an introduction from Neil Gaiman, so there are obviously geek connections here.
In a way I’m sorry to say that the most memorable parts did turn out to be Star Trek related. The journey and personal growth are interesting, but my favorite parts involved other Star Trek celebrities; it happens in a few places. Unless you’re really interested in Wil Wheaton, I wouldn’t read this without a working knowledge of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the actors involved (which, if you’re really interested in Wil Wheaton, you probably have anyway). It’s not a consuming focus but it is spread throughout the book, and there isn’t always much context provided. In a way, Star Trek IS the context of the book.
Since Wheaton is honest, I suppose I’ll be strictly honest too on my assessment. I enjoyed the book. It gave me what I wanted, which was some idea of how Wil Wheaton became a geek touch point beyond the Starship Enterprise. But I didn’t love it and I don’t think I’ll run out to read something else by him. I’m just not enough of a fan of his writing or of him–and it’s a very personality-driven book. I should note there’s no reason for that. It’s just one of those things, what-does-and-doesn’t-speak-to-you.
But I will be hoping for another Big Bang Theory cameo, and I will recommend the book–if you’re a geek.
Author’s Site: http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/