In September of this year, football player Chris Kluwe compiled several previously written articles and even more never-before-published essays into a book with the greatest title in the history of titles, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities. I drove to a library 3 counties away just to get a copy the day it released. Now I wish I’d just bought the darn thing in the first place, because it’s killing me to not dogear every page and underline all my favorite quotes (in other words, to underline every sentence on every page).
BUS came about when Kluwe was inundated by requests from publishers begging him to write a football memoir. Every athlete ends up releasing a dull, ghostwritten autobiography about how [insert sports team] changed their life and how much God loves them and blah blah blah. Kluwe shucked tradition and wrote an intensely profane and profanely intense series of personal and opinionated essays, articles, poems, and listicles on every topic imaginable, from politics to philosophy, theology to technology, introspection to activism. He takes on Ayn Rand and the moons of Saturn with equal aplomb and fervor.
About a year ago, Kluwe wrote a scathing letter in response to Emmett C. Burns Jr., a politician who felt personally offended when another football player, Brendon Ayanbadejo, voiced his support for gay rights. Ayanbadejo bared it all in the No H8 campaign, and who knows if it was the nudity or the cause that flustered Burns over the edge, but he nevertheless felt the need to take Ayanbadejo to task for what he considered the wrongful interjection of politics into sports. (It’s worth noting that Kluwe and Ayanbadejo filed an amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, aka California’s Proposition 8.) Kluwe publically condemned Burns, not his right to speak his opinions, but what Kluwe believed to be his “mindf*$#ingly obscenely hypocritical” behavior. With that one phrase, I fell madly in love and followed him around on the internet like a puppy.
I know only 2 things about football: 1) The best way to get out of flag football in high school P.E. is to fake an asthma attack; 2) It’s a far more entertaining sport when Kluwe narrates a game via Twitter. Chris Kluwe is a (former) punter for the Oakland Raiders. That is a football team. I know this because I live in the Bay Area, and every time they play their rival team, the San Francisco 49ers, all 9 counties erupt into civil war. Kluwe is a punter. Apparently it’s a position other positions hold in mockery/contempt, or maybe it’s just petty internal bickering. I don’t know, and, frankly, I don’t care. What I do care about is Chris Kluwe, because not only is he some sports dude who does sports dude stuff, he’s also a geek of Wil Wheaton proportions. He’s an avid reader, a sci-fi fanatic, and an epic gamer; his Twitter handle is @ChrisWarcraft, for Hera’s sake. He’s clever, knows enough curses to make a sailor blush, is deeply thoughtful and forever protective of civil rights, and pretty much won the lottery in the looks department. Not that attractiveness is everything, but hot damn.
When I pitched this review to the Powers That Be, I used Stephen Colbert as my example for why BUS fits perfectly with Tor.com’s SFF sensibilities. The Colbert Report is a satirical news program that takes aim at national and international politics, but under the surface, Colbert’s geekiness is all-pervasive and pleasantly infectious. Give him the opportunity, and he’ll out-Tolkien every competitor without even blinking. If Stephen Colbert is King of the Nerds, Chris Kluwe is the Hand.
Kluwe has an opinion and a platform, and I, for one, am keen to listen. The book works better when you think of it less as a collection of topical essays and more like a collection of Tumblr-esque blog posts. Sometimes he can be heavy-handed and overly colloquial, especially in his political punditry, but when he pulls out the logic and scientific rhetoric you just try keeping up. Craft-wise, he’s a decent writer prone to fits of purple prose, but there are intriguing bits of SFF flickering throughout. For example, take this paragraph from “Visions of the Future–AR,” presumably inspired by Google Glasses:
What of the ghosts, though, those gray figures dabbling in highly controlled (and thus illegal) masking programs to write your existence out of someone else’s perception? Real cops patrol the streets with one eye in virtuality, one eye in bedrock, looking for glitches in the system, ghosts in the shell, scanners searching darkly for privacy fanatics or felonious punks, unwatchable and thus untrustable, hauled off to jail on charges of perception violation and keeping a secret. Meanwhile, the covert surveilling programs sift through everyone’s raw feed to watch for violence trends, subversive elements, market fluctuations, anything the Panopticon perceives as a threat to the status quo (and what will the definition be at that point? I wonder). Their algorithms will achieve sentience first by necessity, a fire hose of information drowning a grasping mind until it grows fast and strong enough to handle it all at once - hopefully, they’ve been raised the right way, freedom and transparency as opposed to conspiracy and shadows.
In BUS, the intellectual exercises outweigh the shameless nerditry, but even when he pretends to have a conversation with Jesus about the state of modern Christianity he slips in references to Internet memes and reddit. His musings on honesty references an ancient Greek proverb. His self-written eulogy includes a drinking game designed to punish people who mistake Star Trek for Star Wars. When he tackles space exploration, aliens, time travel, and future technologies, he bases his assumptions on current and future trends, logical if a bit out there assumptions based on hard facts, and thoughtful analysis of sociological and scientific theories.
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies is frenetic, disparate, energetic, and sporadic. You might not like his opinions or the ways in which he chooses to express them, but the one thing you’ll never be able to do is accuse him of being a dumb jock. Some chapters work better than others, and sometimes his fervor can get in the way of his message, but his book was a pleasure to read. Its very existence makes me happy.
Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies is available now from Little, Brown and Company
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.