Friday, September 9, 2011

Geek Wisdom: A Review

Last week I read the new book Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. This is a collection of ruminations on the most quotable quotes from those things held dear by self-proclaimed geeks and nerds everywhere: Comic books, movies, Fantasy and Science Fiction books, and television, among others. The premise of the book is that these well-known and oft-quoted phrases are more than just a secret language allowing Geeks to find each other, but form a body of wisdom that are part of a secular, Pop Culture, mythic interpretation of the universe. A variety of authors contributed to this book and the whole was edited by Stephen Segal.

I need to say up front here that Steve is a friend of mine, and has been for quite some time now. I first met Steve when I was writing articles for In Pittsburgh Newsweekly and he came on staff as an Arts editor and eventually moved on to the Editor in Chief position. He also became a customer of mine at Phantom of the Attic Comics and our mutual love and shared interest in these topics cemented our friendship. We have had both a professional and personal relationship ever since. Steve is the editor perhaps most responsible for shaping my journalistic writing skills, and as a writer I followed him from In Pittsburgh, to Whirl Magazine and Pittsburgh Magazine.

So I'm kind of biased to like what he does is what I'm saying here. With that caveat in mind, read on.

Since leaving Pittsburgh Steve has worked for Weird Tales Magazine, won a Hugo Award, and is currently an editor at Quirk Books. Geek Wisdom is simply the most perfect project that Steve could have done. This so clearly reads like most of the conversations I have ever had with him. He has tapped into a concept here that every Geek knows deep in their soul. We all have these conversations all of the time. Our pursuits are not the frivolous, ephemeral things most people would believe, but are the result of a tremendous amount of thought, intelligence and, yes, wisdom.

The book begins with the well-known quote from the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. “With Great Power there must also come, great responsibility!” Since I fall primarily in the category of comics geek, this made me very happy. I see this as one of the truest things ever said in comics, and it provides one of the most pure motivations for a hero ever. But beyond the scope of the comic it is something anyone who wields power in any form to remember, whether that is political power or physical power, or whatever. Our words, the words of each and every one of of us, have to power to inspire or to hurt. We need to be aware of the power we have over those around us every day, and to use them responsibly.

And that's just where the book begins. While it does deal with heavy issues it never loses its sense of humor. That alone is one of the hallmarks of Geek Wisdom.

No matter how secular our society has become, or how far from traditional religion anyone has gone, we are all still seeking meaning in our lives, a way of understanding our place in the world and the universe. We are looking for stories by which to live.

Geek Wisdom does not present itself as a replacement for more traditional spiritual paths or religions. It does point out that wisdom exists wherever one chooses to look for it. Most of the analyzed quotes in the book fall firmly within the boundaries of wisdom established by those traditional paths. Pop Culture wisdom is the wisdom of the ages, tarted up in a new post-modern outfit.

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