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Ethan Gilsdorf

Help Memorialize Gygax at Gen Con Starting Tomorrow

Whether or not you are a gamer, there’s no question that the game Dungeons & Dragons has affected all manner of geekery. D&D pioneered the role-playing genre, the idea of “leveling up,” and helped legitimize fantasy and science fiction not only as books to read, but worlds to inhabit. Fandom is forever grateful to D&D’s co-creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

Or it should be.

July 27th would have been Gygax’s 73rd birthday. Folks have been working to immortalize his legacy and the impact of D&D by building a memorial statue in Gygax’s hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The next step is to raise money. This coming week at Gen Con in Indianapolis (the now massive gaming convention that Gygax founded), using the birthday as the impetus, the Gygax Memorial Fund will be at booth #1541 (the Old School Renaissance Group) to accept donations to get this statue built.

Come by and give it up for Gary!

[Read more about how you can help, after the break…]

Isolationist Utopias: A Review of Pym by Mat Johnson

Chris Jaynes, the protagonist of Mat Johnson’s novel “Pym,” is a member of that particular species dubbed Loner-Academic. Spurned eons ago by a love named Angela, Jayne collects thousands of books, many of them rare, and into these dusty realms of paper and print, he retreats.

But Bard College, which appointed the self-described “Professional Negro” to teach African-American literature to privileged white kids, has cast him out. “Hired to be the angry black guy,” he wouldn’t serve on the school’s Diversity Committee. His logic: “It’s sort of like, if you had a fire, and instead of putting it out, you formed a fire committee.” Curing the country’s race ailments, Jaynes declares, “couldn’t be done with good intentions or presidential elections.”

[Read more]

A Superficial Geek

I recently wrote an essay that discussed the fate of geek/non-geek couples and how these relationships might have any hope of survival. The essay begins this way:

In a famous scene in the 1982 movie Diner, Eddie (played by Steve Guttenberg) makes his wife-to-be pass a football trivia quiz before he’ll agree to marry her. Me, I’m a fantasy and gaming geek, not a sports freak. I may not know how many yards Tom Brady has passed for this season, or the Red Sox bullpen’s average ERA last season, but I can name all nine members of the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings, and I can tell you that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

Then, within a few hours of my essay’s magical appearance on the Internet, I received this letter from a reader:

Ethan Gilsdorf seems to be a very superficial geek. […] Any real geek would know that a parsec is a unit of distance, not time.

A number of red alert horns went off in my head.

[Read further to find out if I’m a superficial geek]

Poets geek out

The results are in!

The folks over at Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks sponsored a geek poetry contest with and here are the winning poems.

Readers of Geek Mom were asked to submit a poem in any form of their choosing (haiku, rap, free verse, Klingon sonnet) on any geeky topic: Tolkien, Star Wars, Star Trek, gelatinous cubes, World of Warcraft war chants, hobbit drinking songs, odes to Harry Potter, ballads to honor Gary Gygax….

Here’s a sample of the winning haiku:

Samwise and Frodo:
You think they’re about to kiss,
But they never do.

—Natalie Jones

[Read more amazing poems here, after the break]

Geek Book Gift Guide

’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.

[Been good? Read my picks for holiday books of geekery!]

Is Boston the hub of steampunk?

When Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum bought a 1901 home in Sharon, Massachusetts, they wanted to restore it top to bottom. And rather than force a modern interior design, they remodeled it with a Victorian twist.

In the kitchen, an antique cash register holds dog treats. A cast iron stove is retrofitted with a Miele cooktop and electric ovens. In the family room, a wooden mantle frames a sleek flat-screen TV, and hidden behind an enameled fireplace insert, salvaged from a Kansas City train station, glow LED lights from the home-entertainment system.

In doing so, the antique and obsolete got a new lease on life. Unknowingly, the Rosenbaums had “steampunked’’ their home.

For those of you not yet conversant in the genre, what they did was add anachronistic (and sometimes nonfunctioning) machinery like old gears, gauges, and other accoutrements that evoke the design principles of Victorian England and the Industrial Revolution.

But the Rosenbaums had no conception of steampunk before they retro-fitted their house. They just liked salvaging old things. And now they’ve been embraced by the steampunk community.

[Read more]

12 Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks Who Made a Difference

As a teen, I was warped by reading swords and sorcery novels, painting miniature goblin and dwarf figurines, and collecting polyhedral dice. Twenty-five years later, I wrote the book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks to unearth the root of my attraction to tales of magical powers and heroic deeds. But one quest I didn’t get around to completing: making a list of fantasy and gaming’s all-time heroes.

Who is on the all-star team of fantasy authors? Which gods eternally lodge in the Valhalla of gaming (and by “gaming,” we don’t mean Texas Hold-Em, we mean Dungeons & Dragons). Who had the most influence on the genre?

I’ve given it a shot (listed here by year of birth). Several didn’t make the cut. I have my biases. Of course, you’ll quibble over my selections. But isn’t that what these Top-Whatever lists are all about?

[Get out your 20-sided dice. Game on!]

Geek Out!

Like when the planets align, there are a few times each year when geeks can fly their freak flags high and proud, in vast numbers, and at the same time in different parts of the universe.

This coming Labor Day is one of those weekends.

On the west coast, we have Pax, in Seattle, a three-day game festival for tabletop, videogame, and PC gamers and a general celebration of gamer-geek culture. (And in the other corner, Atlanta, we have Dragon*Con. But more on that another time.)

[More after the break…]

When literary authors slum in genre

There’s a curious phenomenon happening out there in LiteraryLand: The territory of genre fiction is being invaded by the literary camp.

Take Justin Cronin, writer of respectable stories, who recently leaped the chasm to the dystopian, undead-ridden realm of Twilight.  With The Passage, his post-apocalyptic, doorstopper of a saga, the author enters a new universe, seemingly snubbing his former life writing “serious books” like Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest, which won prizes like Pen/Hemingway Award, the Whiting Writer’s Award and the Stephen Crane Prize. Both books of fiction situate themselves solidly in the camp of literary fiction. They’re set on the planet Earth we know and love. Not so with The Passage, in which mutant vampire-like creatures ravage a post-apocalyptic U.S. of A. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road crossed with the movie The Road Warrior, with the psychological tonnage of John Fowles’ The Magus and the “huh?” of The Matrix.

[More after the break]

Do we really need another Robin Hood?

Do we really need another Robin Hood? 

That’s the question begged by Ridley Scott’s new version.

Starring action-lunk-with-acting-gravitas Russell Crowe in the title role, and an A-list supporting cast of Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, and Max von Sydow, the new Robin Hood also features a budget and production values on an epic scale. Men in Tights, Mel Brooks’ 1993 send-up, this is not.

Scott’s Robin Hood is the latest of some 50 movie and television adaptations chronicling the life and exploits of our favorite do-gooder thief—an impressive run that begins with the silent Robin Hood and His Merry Men in 1908.

You’d think viewers would be weary of another retelling of this gallant, often green-clothed folk hero who selflessly stands up for the common man. But few other stories have enjoyed such a continuous reworking as good old RH, who began appearing orally in legends, ballads, and outlaw stories around the reign of King John (1199-1216) and, in print, in Piers Plowman (circa 1377).

[Read more…]

Harry Potter to the Rescue

Geeks have hearts of gold.

I wrote some time ago about an effort to aid Haiti relief, spearheaded by an organization called the Harry Potter Alliance, which has long inspired Harry Potter fans to take action on real-world social issues like global warming and Darfur. Recently, it launched its largest fandom action, called Help Haiti Heal, to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Of course, the point was to raise a bunch of money in a time of need. But, on the sly, I think the effort helped show that so-called escapist pursuits like reading fantasy novels like Harry Potter, watching fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, or participating in role-playing games can actually connect to the real world, too.

[More below the fold…]

Geek relief for Haiti

Fantasy and gaming is often accused of being frivolous, pointless, escapist or lost in it own world.

But not anymore.

An organization called the Harry Potter Alliance, which has long inspired Harry Potter fans to take action on real-world social issues like global warming and Darfur, has now launched perhaps its largest fandom action with an organization called Help Haiti Heal.

Saturday, January 23 at 2pm ET is when the awareness-raising and fundraising effort kicks off. On that day, fans of all kinds will be coming together to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Rooted in the Harry Potter community, the Helping Haiti Heal live fundraising webcast will take place via Livestream (, and bring together Harry Potter fans and fans of other blockbuster books, movies, and TV series such as Heroes, True Blood, Mad Men, The Wire, and Firefly for this effort. The four-hour event includes entertainment, performance, interviews, news and more.

[Read more…]

“Geek” Is No Longer a Four-Letter Word

Here’s the truth: No matter how hard you try to suppress some jagged part of your past, it invariably comes screaming back. Especially when you label that subterranean aspect of your previous life “unfinished business” and sweep it under the rug.

Such was the case with my Dungeons and Dragons obsession. The last time I played was senior year in high school, 25 years ago. I thought I had put my gamer days behind me. But what I had simply done was quit playing. My desire to inhabit some fantasy world remained, haunted me throughout my adulthood, and kept beckoning me with its crooked, wiggling finger.

I had played D&D, that oft-maligned fantasy role-playing game, for six hours every Friday night (not to mention the hours I spent scheming and dreaming my next D&D adventure), from the summer before my eighth-grade year until my last year of high school. Week after week, for five years straight, I sat at a table of pimply-faced boys, surrounded by bags of cheese doodles, bottles of Mountain Dew, and mounds of polyhedral dice. In and around those mundane trappings of 20th-century rural New Hampshire life, my D&D gang and I conjured a more fantastic reality, one filled with magic swords, blistering fireballs, and heroic leaps from castle parapets onto the backs of giant rats, goblins, and umber hulks.

[Read more…]

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