Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fangirling

I’ve been rediscovering my geek roots. Getting back to sci-fi and fantasy novels was just the start. This past winter break was a pretty spectacular time for rediscovering my love of fandoms and fan culture. It all started with Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, which came out last semester. I’d adored the concept of her earlier novel, Fangirl, though I didn’t love the execution – it’s a story about a Cath, a first-year college undergrad and fanfic author writing what’s essentially the last Harry Potter book before it comes out. Instead of Harry Potter, it’s Simon Snow, but Fangirl was unmistakably a book about HP fan culture. Cath’s fanfic, Carry On, Simon stuck in Rowell’s head even after Fangirl was published. So she wrote that story – not as Cath would tell it, but as she, Rowell, would. So Carry On is a realization of a fictional fanfic of a fictional alternate Harry Potter. It’s fantastically meta and yet another love story to fan culture. (Although yet again, I adored the concept but not the execution. Rowell’s prose and romances just don’t do it for me.)

And then for Thanksgiving, Amazon had a huge sale, and Husband and I splurged: we bought ourselves all 8 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, which we’d begun watching together in our summer in London. My university library only has the first 5 seasons, so we’d been considering buying the later ones...but the sale was too good to pass up. So now we own all of them. And after Husband finished his semester and came home for a solid month (I was a happy wife, let me tell you), we watched them all. Now, Big Bang Theory has its problems. It is often unconsciously offensive, completely tone deaf in its depiction of power relations, sexist, racist. It doesn’t understand academia at all. It gets stuff wrong about the very geeky things it depicts. But it depicts geeks loving geeky things without embarrassment. And a lot of the those things are things I love, or at least, I used to. Stuff like the board game Talisman, Dungeons & Dragons, collectible card game tournaments at comic book stores, sci-fi conventions, wanting to grow up to be a Vulcan or a hobbit. A lot of things I haven’t thought about in a while, but being reminded, now I miss them.
 
So I read Sam Maggs’ fabulously affirming Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, which introduces names of fandoms, gives a guide to attending cons, even outlines major concepts in feminism and how they apply to the geek girl’s experience. It’s a light, frothy sort of book that reads more like an informal blog post with all its internet jargon, and it was super fun. I read it in a single afternoon.

Then I turned to David M. Ewalt’s Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. The good: a detailed story of the early history of the making of D&D: where the ideas came from and how they were brought to life and marketed as what would become the world’s most successful role-playing game ever. I loved the discussion about how role-playing shapes your creativity, your ability to problem-solve, your teamwork. But, and here’s the serious but: when the title says “Of Dice and Men” it means it. This is not a story about “the People Who Play It.” This is a story about the men who play D&D, with almost no recognition throughout the entire book that women have, can, and do play it. There was exactly one reference to a woman playing D&D in the entire book – one, I counted! The worst bit was when the author criticized an acquaintance for being sexist without realizing that he himself had been sexist throughout the whole book. Well, newsflash, David M. Ewalt: women play D&D too. There’s no gender essentialism that says only men can ever be interested in role-playing. Stop being surprised that we might ever care. Women are not some foreign species, we share all the same interests as you men.


Oh, and more geeking out: Husband and I watched all seven of the Star Wars movies over break too. I’m planning to buy Hot Topic’s awesome corset-top TARDIS dress. Stephen Moffat is leaving Doctor Who (next step, female doctor??!). And I’m a hundred pages into John Crowley’s totally ethereal and sensuous novel Little, Big.

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