’Twas the night before Christmas, when through the black hole
Not a fanboy or girl was stirring, not even a troll
The MacBooks were placed near the Wi-fi with care,
In hopes that St. Geekolas soon would be there.
Have you been a good little geek this year? Have you kept your PS3 and XBOX consoles all shiny and neat? Did you get all A’s in Elvish and Klingon and Shyriiwook (aka Wookiee Speak)? Did you roll all 20’s the last time you went dungeon crawling? If so, perhaps you’ll find one of these geek-eriffic books under the tree this year.
But if you haven’t been good...well, Sauron’s eye, I mean Santa’s eye, is ever watchful. So you better watch out.
My Best Friend Is a Wookiee: A Memoir, One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy by Tony Pacitti ($19.95, Adams Media)
Certified Star Wars geek (and Massachusetts native) Tony Pacitti charts his life in relation to the Trilogy—from pathetic childhood and adolescence to Luke Skywalker-like coming of age. We see a painfully shy kid slowly trying out the Jedi-like powers of adulthood and using the transformative Force (and forces) of the Star Wars universe to get him there. A hyperdrive tour through Star Wars fandom that’s more fun than shooting womp rats in Beggar’s Canyon. But My Best Friend Is a Wookiee also a comical, tender, no-punches-pulled coming of age memoir.
Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters ($12.95, Quirk Books)
What happens when you mash-up Anna Karenina with the world of 19th century Russia, this time retro-fitted with robotic butlers, mechanical wolves and moon-bound rocketships? You get Android Karenina, from the same folks who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Here’s a sample line from Winters’ steampunked Tolstoy: “When Anna emerged [from the rocket], her stylish feathered hat bent to fit inside the dome of the helmet, her pale and lovely hand holding the handle of her dainty ladies’-size oxygen tank ...” A fun tongue-in-cheek romp for literature majors and science fiction aficionados alike.
We, Robot: Skywalker’s Hand, Blade Runners, Iron Man, Slutbots, and How Fiction Became Fact by Mark Stephen Meadows ($19.95, Lyons Press)
If you grew up like I did on a steady diet of The Jetsons, The Six Million Dollar Man, Star Wars, and The Terminator, then you’ve been wondering when all your robot fantasies might become true. But unlike personal jet packs (never happened) and hover craft (another back-of-comic-book pipe dream), cyborgs, androids, and avatars are real. With wit and insight, Mark Stephen Meadows separates science fiction from actual fact, navigating the ethically sketchy territory of domestic robots and autonomous military robots, artificial hands and artificial emotions. We, Robot raises the crucial questions that robot-makers largely ignore. In doing so, Meadows shows us that in our quest to create more and more life-like robots, we’ve become more robotic ourselves.
The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook: Extended Edition by Ian Brodie ($24.95, HarperCollins)
When I traveled to New Zealand to research my book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, and embarked on my own Lord of the Rings filming location geek-out quest, this guidebook was indispensable. With its detailed maps, directions, insider information and exclusive movie stills—even GPS coordinates—I was able to find dozens of sites, from the Shire (Matamata) to Mordor (Mt Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park) to Arrowntown’s The Ford of Bruinen, location for the famed “If you want him, come and claim him!” scene. Perfect for the Tolkien freak planning his or her own LOTR adventure Down Under.
Must video games remain mere entertainment? Could they provide narratives that books, movies, and other vehicles for story delivery can’t? Might they even aspire to art? Tom Bissell’s new book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter aims a tentative mortar shot at these targets. His investigation is bedrocked upon personal experience; along the way, we also meet game developers at such megaliths as Epic Games, Bio Ware, and Ubisoft. Thankfully, the book isn’t pure fanboy boosterism. Video games can be great, he says, but they can be “big, dumb, loud.’’ A master prose stylist, the erudite Bissell is frequently insightful in the analysis of his video game obsessions.
Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games With God by Craig Detweiler, editor ($19.95, Westminster John Knox Press)
A thoughtful collection of essays at the cross-section of religious and media studies. The various contributors take on quirky topics such as the theological implications of apocalyptic video games like Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Resident Evil; how avatars are changing social networks and our spiritual lives; and the medical ethics and theology in controversial games such as BioShock. Bonus material includes an interview with Rand Miller, cocreator of Myst and Riven, and other video game industry folks.
The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer ($24.99, St. Martin’s Press)
In the steampunk tradition comes this debut novel a greeting card writer imprisoned aboard a zeppelin who must confront a genius inventor and a perpetual motion machine. In creating his world, Palmer borrowed from archival source materials that predicted life how life would be in the year 2000, then retro-designed modern gadgets that use turn-of-the-19th-century technology. A kind of Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Jules Verne might have envisioned it and a great, richly-imagined read.
Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game by Shelly Mazzanoble ($12.95, Wizards of the Coast)
Dungeons & Dragons insider Mazzanoble (she now works for Wizards of the Coast, the company behind D&D) gives a sassy and informative look at D&D from the female gamer’s POV. She tackles myths and realities of gamer stereotypes and proves that women should be, and increasingly are, welcome to roll dice and at Cheetos with the rest of the trolls. As Mazzanoble writes: “Let’s get one thing straight: I am a girly girl. I get pedicures, facials, and microderm abrasions. I own more flavors of body lotions, scrubs, and rubs than Baskin Robbins could dream of putting in a cone. ... I am also an ass-kicking, spell-chucking, staff-wielding 134 year-old elf sorceress named Astrid Bellagio.”
Star Wars Jesus: A Spiritual Commentary on the Reality of the Force by Caleb Grimes ($17.95, WinePress Publishing)
Is Obi-Wan Jesus? Why does Yoda speak like a character from the Old Testament? What inspires our devotion to this mythical universe of Jedis, Dark Sides and “feeling the Force”? Grimes gives us a different take on the LucasFilm empire, one that sees the Star Wars stories as potentially as powerful and useful as the ones we learned in Sunday school. In my case, I missed church entirely, but that didn’t stop me from quoting “There is no try. Do or do not” as a kind of spirtual/philosophical mantra.
Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek: The First 30 Years by John Booth ($14.95, Lulu.com)
Not long ago, enviro-spiritual interpretations of The Lord of the Rings were all the rage. Now, paeans to Star Wars are popular. Here’s one that’s a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to getting Star Wars birthday cakes from puzzled parents to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.
A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder and Enchantment by Philip Martin ($16.95, Crickhollow Books)
A diverse and thoughtful examination of the so-called “fantasy” genre: from Middle-earth to Narnia, high fantasy to dark fantasy, fairy-tale fiction to magic realism and adventure-fantasy tales. Peppered with meaty quotes by J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Stephen King, Martin’s book provides a concise primer for those wondering why it is we’re drawn to tales of magic quests and heroic derring-do.
The Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who by Anthony Burge, Jessica Burke and Kristine Larsen, editors ($15.00, Kitsune Books)
Doctor Who fans, rejoice! This collection of essays takes a look at the mythological undercurrent in this classic BBC television series considered by the Guinness World Records as the “longest-running science fiction television show in the world” and “most successful” science fiction series of all time.” (Take that, Lucas and Roddenberry). Topics connect Doctor Who to Arthurian legend, Batman and medieval Scandinavian valkyries. An engaging discussion for the serious traveler of the Whoinverse.
Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction by Ryan G. Van Cleave ($14.95, HCI)
Most of the time, playing video games is fine, fun and perfectly harmless. But every now and then, a player gets a little too immersed in a game’s imaginary word. In Cleave’s case, the game was World of Warcraft, and his playtime turned into an 80-hour-a-week, life-wrecking addiction. Unplugged tells a cautionary tale of hitting rock bottom, wising-up and climbing out of the dungeon.
How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack: Defend Yourself When the Lawn Warriors Strike (And They Will) by Chuck Sambuchino ($14.99. Ten Speed Press)
Silly. Ridiculous. And a hoot. In the spirit of those “how to survive a zombie apocalypse” manuals comes this tome to tell us how to defend against the latest enemy. The book claims it is “the only comprehensive survival guide that will help you prevent, prepare for, and ward off an imminent home invasion by the common garden gnome.” Great color photos bring the spoofy goofiness alive.
Carl Warner’s Food Landscapes by Carl Warner ($22.50, Abrams Image)
For the food geek on your list. Sumptuous, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mouth-watering fantastical landscapes made entirely from real fruit of this earth: vegetables, cheeses, breads, fish, meat, and grains (and fruit, too). The 25 photographs take you on a trip around the world... and the sweet treat is each photo is followed by making-of insights into the creative process. Don’t read on an empty stomach.
Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead ($17.00, Gotham)
The title pretty much says it all. You’re a geek. You have a kid who’s a geek (or you want to turn your kid into a geek). Read this crafty book for ideas to share your love of science, technology, gadgetry and MacGyver. Engineer and wired.com’s Geek Dad editor Ken Denmead offers projects so you and your child can, among other things: 1) launch a video camera with balloons; 2) make the "Best Slip n’ Slide Ever”; and 3) build a working lamp with LEGO bricks and CDs. Soon, together, you can rule the galaxy as father and son. Mwahahah!
Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, now in paperback. Follow his adventures and get more info on this book at http://www.ethangilsdorf.com/.