EDIT: My apologies to anyone who got double emails and double trackbacks, or has had trouble with a broken link. The original version of this essay disappeared due to an infestation of drunk gremlins causing glitches. I had to rebuild it from the Google cache. If you are someone I linked to and have double trackbacks, I’m sorry for the minor bout of spam. One of those links won’t work now. 

I have an extremely pretty friend. Okay, that’s not unusual — a very high number of my female friends are good-looking, ranging from cute to gorgeous. This particular friend is drop-dead, traffic-stopping kind of gorgeous, with a smile that can stop hearts and a body that can cause accidents in the street. She’s a model, a singer, a dancer, a teacher, amazingly athletic, and huge fun to hang out with. Some of you know exactly who I’m talking about. A few times, it’s been suggested that we date. We both laugh.

Now, I don’t take offense at her laughter, not like I would from someone else. I mean, I’m a geek with a wheelchair; the only thing attractive about me is my brain and my paycheck. The latter is just big enough to be noticed and lacks at least two zeros as far as golddiggers are concerned; and the former, well, face it. It’s not enough. But I don’t find it offensive from my friend, because while we’re very close, we don’t fit well enough to even attempt a relationship, much less have a happy marriage. She’d have to go to her happy place if I start talking about anything other than where our interests coincide, which are actually in very few areas.

If you know me, you know I can’t possibly shut up about my interests. When I get invited to speak at conventions, I quite literally tell the panel coordinator to put me in however many slots he or she wants, because odds are I’m going to be talking to people all day anyway. I get a contact high from geekdom. The idea of even one date with someone who can’t stand to listen to me be enthusiastic about something is horrifying. I care for my friend like she’s family, and I’m there for her anytime she needs help, but we both know it wouldn’t be good for our friendship. So we both laugh.

Of course, the last time this happened, she threatened to punch me if I didn’t stop laughing. Sorry! But I couldn’t help it, considering the exact situation. But that’s beside the point. We’d both bore each other — even though we both deeply care about each other. Neither of us can be something we’re not.

This is why I hate it when people rail about “fake geek girls.” It’s also why I’m finding myself utterly perplexed to be called a fake geek girl.

Yes, I’m male. Bear with me. If it doesn’t already make sense, it will. 

The accusation about “fake geek girls” is that they’re at conventions and on social media proclaiming (*Valley Girl accent*) “Omigawd, I just love watching Star Trek, I mean, I grew up wanting a lightsaber, y’know?” They don’t know the material. They don’t have geek cred. They’re just out for attention now that being a geek has become cool.

Okay, so some of them sound like they know the material, but really, they obviously just did some research online and paid someone else to make their costume, all so they could get you to revere them. Oh frabjuous day!

And a fake geek girl wouldn't get this reference. Proof of guilt!

This attitude isn’t limited to girls, though that’s been a very visible part of the disgruntlement for the last several years. A real geek doesn’t just do some research. A real geek has to suffer for his geek cred. It’s not just about being enthusiastic about something. It’s not just about feeling like an outsider and enjoying a subset of reality, or an imagined reality, over “normal stuff” (whatever that is). A realgeek is someone who has to wait between installments, who lived through a pre-digital age where you couldn’t just download your entertainment. A real geek is someone who had to comb through used bookstores to find vintage material, rather than downloading it to his Kindle. A real geek is someone who had to find bootleg copies of foreign films, rather than stream subtitled videos.

In an opinion piece in Wired from December 2010 titled “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die.,” Patton Oswald makes the point that what makes a geek a geek (or an otaku, the Japanese word for a narrowly-focused enthusiast) has been destroyed by the Internet. Waxing nostalgic for the good old days (when he apparently had to walk to the video game arcade barefoot, through the snow, uphill, both ways), he wrote:

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the ’80s, you couldn’t get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn’t BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade’s worth of grunge or hip hop. […]

But then reflect on the advantages. Waiting for the next issue, movie, or album gave you time to reread, rewatch, reabsorb whatever you loved, so you brought your own idiosyncratic love of that thing to your thought-palace. People who were obsessed with Star Trek or the Ender’s Gamebooks were all obsessed with the same object, but its light shone differently on each person. Everyone had to create in their mind unanswered questions or what-ifs. What if Leia, not Luke, had become a Jedi? What happens after Rorschach’s journal is found at the end of Watchmen? What the hell was The Prisoner about?

Yes, that’s right, folks. All of you who still do that, you don’t actually do that. Or rather, not the way he did it. Alone. Barefoot. Both ways. Because the biggest danger to geek culture is . . . geek culture. It must not grow. It must not be accessible. No, you must earn it, by carrying a lotus flower in your teeth while climbing a sheer cliff in a Himalayan snowstorm using nothing but your own muscles and climbing gear woven from the incarnate fibers of your geek pride, so that the legendary Master of Geekfu can deem you worthy of the next installment of your favorite series.

None of that’s necessary anymore. When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.

I know it sounds great, but there’s a danger: Everything we have today that’s cool comes from someone wanting more of something they loved in the past. Action figures, videogames, superhero movies, iPods: All are continuations of a love that wanted more. […]

Now, with everyone more or less otaku and everything immediately awesome (or, if not, just as immediately rebooted or recut as a hilarious YouTube or Funny or Die spoof), the old inner longing for more or better that made our present pop culture so amazing is dwindling. The Onion‘s A.V. Club—essential and transcendent in so many ways—has a weekly feature calledGateways to Geekery, in which an entire artistic subculture—say, anime, H. P. Lovecraft, or the Marx Brothers—is mapped out so you can become otaku on it but avoid its more tedious aspects.

Here’s the danger: That creates weak otakus. Etewaf doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there’s a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie?

Well, I’ve apparently been having fun wrong.

Real geekdom stopped with the Internet, it seems. Real geekdom isn’t allowed play homage to what’s come before, or riff off it in a different direction. Real geekdom doesn’t have room for groups of people getting together to enjoy the same things or introduce them to others who haven’t yet experienced that joy. Real geekdom isn’t so . . . popular.


As I said, “fake geek girls” have become the face of this particular brand of “othering,” but that just makes the counter argument even more obvious. Think about it. You’ve got a group of people who are putting in the time and effort to catch up on the stuff you find cool, shelling out more time or lots of money (or both) to make costumes, filling their social media accounts with geeky things, so that they can be the center of attention for . . . nerd boys?

Listen, fellas. I’ve been to a bunch of conventions. They are not great relationship hunting-grounds. You’re telling me that a pretty girl is coming into my world, expressing interest in stuff I like? She’s not going to a fancy club, or a beach resort, or maybe a law convention where she could find someone with a big checkbook? She’s braving the hordes of weirdos in costumes, everyone rushing from panel to panel, skipping showers and getting sweaty, so that she can hook up with . . . nerd boys?

Dude. Even if that were true, it still sounds like a great thing. And it’s not true. This is hardly an efficient way to be the center of attention. I literally know dozens of women who can go stop traffic accidents if they decided to dress just a little provocatively. Most of them are too busy reading SF&F to bother. Because they’re geek girls.

Why do we even have to label them as geek girls, rather than just geeks? Does it really matter which way their plumbing lies?

Apparently so, because geek girls are so dangerous that Tara Brown, in a Forbes.com opinion piece titled “Dear Fake Geek Girls, Please Go Away,” wrote:

Pretentious females who have labeled themselves as a “geek girl” figured out that guys will pay a lot of attention to them if they proclaim they are reading comics or playing video games. […] Girls who genuinely like their hobby or interest and document what they are doing to help others, not garner attention, are true geeks. The ones who think about how to get attention and then work on a project in order to maximize their klout, are exhibitionists.

Okay, so where are the girls begging for my attention, who can’t live without basking in my geek cred? Oh, wait. Maybe it’s because I’m not a real geek. Like Oswald, Tara Brown is scornful at the kids playing on her lawn:

Maybe it’s just something that Generation X’ers lament about, as many of us old-timers believe that when it was harder to learn about something and you did it anyway, when no one else was building that computer in the basement but you persevered, that’s when your passions really shined through. That’s what being a geek is. Now if someone sticks a video game into their XBOX 360 console, they self-label themselves a ‘gamer.’

You know, I joke a lot on Facebook about how my younger friends make me feel old. My friends’s kids make me feel ancient. But holy cannoli, being a Gen Xer is now considered old-timey? She’s talking about my generation.

Let me tell you something about that generation. Saying that the Internet killed fun is like saying the invention of the toilet weakened society because it made things too easy. Why is it a bad thing that we have easier access to things now?

If you are otaku-obsessed about something, keep doing what you love and share with others that have the same passionate interest as you. And if you think something is interesting but aren’t willing to put the time and effort into understanding it deeply or becoming extremely skillful at it, do everyone a favor and call yourself what you are: a casual hobbyist.

Being really passionate or skillful at something is not something you can fake; it takes a lot of hard work to be a geek. Being a geek isn’t something you so much decide to do, but realize you are after the fact. People who are obsessed with something often don’t even know it until others point it out to them, they are just doing what they like without thinking about the how or why.

I really wonder what room Ms. Brown has in her world for newcomers who want to catch up. “No, you can’t join my club until you’ve lived as I have lived, read everything I’ve read, seen everything I’ve seen.”

Heck, just take my niece. Here she is, excited beyond belief, because it’s her first year as an exhibitor at BrickFair:

BrickFair Emily 2

When I was her age, my friends at school made fun of me for having Lego. My father was threatening to throw my Lego out. Emily’s father, at her age, was forced to sell off his Lego to other kids, rather than keep them for himself (or even just to give to me; I was six at the time). I endured years of ridicule and pressure to keep my hobby. I haven’t had a single member of my family get me Lego as a gift since I was Emily’s age. I never got to go to places like BrickFair or Legoland until I was an adult and was paying my own way. No one even told me there was a local club I could have joined.

Emily hasn’t had to go through that. No, she has an uncle who got her hundreds of dollars of Lego last year alone, and drives an hour and a half each of the five days of BrickFair, round-trip, so that she can come along. Her parents think it’s a great thing, and she’s alive at a time when Lego is considered awesome.

What, I’m supposed to deny her this time of her life because she hasn’t earned it the way I have? I’m supposed to proclaim her a fake geek girl, because she hasn’t struggled for it? Are you kidding me?

But it’s not actually about any realistic image of what makes a geek. It’s just “othering.” It’s just some people who want to feel elitist.

Those that are deceitful about being a geek do it because deep down they want to feel that hunger to be so into something you can’t eat or sleep, but just haven’t found their thing yet. Don’t pretend to love something because you think it will get you attention. Don’t think that you can take a shortcut because there isn’t one. Dig deep, dig to the roots, dig until you know things that others you admire in the subject matter don’t know or can’t do. Then go ahead and proudly label yourself a geeky girl.

Ms. Brown, you want fake geek girls to go away. Have you ever considered that some people are trying to break in? That they want something that they’ve only just discovered, and perhaps are still learning about? That they want to catch up, and this is your opportunity to share the things you love?

Of course, perhaps you — and so many others I’ve seen pounding out their hate online this weekend, in the wake of the Hugo Awards announcement — are being dismissive because deep down, you feel that drive to prove you’re better than others. A drive that means you can’t eat or sleep, because someone, somewhere, is having fun wrong.

Maybe I should have titled this blog post “Elitist Snobs, Please Go Away.”

It seems that I’m a fake geek girl too, now. I’ve seen post after post from the social fiction warriorcrowd talking about people who aren’t real fans.

Let’s take Tor editor Moshe Feder, whom I consider to be a fantastic editor (truly one of the best in the business). He commented over at File 770:

I learned about fandom from people like Bob Tucker, Walt Willis, Arthur Thomson, James White, Bob Shaw, Chuck Harris, Harry Warner, Jr., Terry Carr, Arnie Katz, Ted White, Dick Lupoff, Richard Bergeron, Donald A. Wollheim, Bob Silverberg, Peter Weston, Bruce Gillespie, Bruce Pelz, Elliot Shorter, Jack Chalker, Dick Eney, Bob Madle, Rusty Hevelin, Jack Speer, Lee Hoffman, Vince Clarke, Shelby Vick, Andrew Porter, Steve Stiles, Len & June Moffat, Buck & Juanita Coulson, Bill Bowers, Mike Glicksohn, Susan Wood, Peter Roberts, Avedon Carol, Rob Hansen, etc., etc. In short, from the people who built today’s fandom before fantasy and SF had achieved mass popularity.

They all understood that fannish principles are incompatible with bloc voting and consistently spoke against it. They wouldn’t have tolerated what’s happened this year, and neither can I.

To which I ask . . . Why?

Let’s put aside the question of who engaged in bloc voting first, how often, or anything like that. Let’s just look at the concept of “bloc voting.”

A voting bloc is nothing more than a group of people that tend to share the same opinion. They then go and express that opinion at the polls. They’re defined by their shared ideas, which can grow and change over time as each of them come to different conclusions or circumstances change.

Last I checked, a group of people who have the same enthusiastic and supportive opinion of a work of entertainment are called . . . fans.

I truly, honestly do not see a problem here. Heck, just last week we were being told there’s a superiority to “organized fandom.”

I do, however, see a huge problem with people who see fandom like this:

Not a real fan

And the response to the influx of “non-real fans” into the Hugo Awards has been rather deafening. Moshe Feder, and many others, have decided that the best way to respond to this is to vote No Award above any nominee proposed by Sad Puppies, no matter the work’s quality. Feder writes:

I have to give this some thought, but I may have to conclude that an ethical fan with traditional fannish values has no choice but to only consider nominees _not_ backed by the slates and, if not satisfied that those deserve to win, to then vote No Award in as many categories as necessary. No Award is our last bastion against corruption. Unfortunately, to vote for any of the slate-backed nominees, no matter how worthy in the abstract, would be to implicitly endorse the cynical and unfannish way they got on the ballot.

Author Deirdre Saoirse Moen (Ms. Moen, may I take a moment to compliment you on your gorgeous-sounding Irish name? Yes, I do know how to pronounce it.) has released her own 2015 Hugo Awards voting guide which advises everyone to not bother reading anything that was recommended by Sad Puppies (or Rabid Puppies, a separate campaign that I haven’t talked about because, frankly, its promotion techniques didn’t interest me). Instead, she says voters should exercise their opinion about the other works and persons on the ballot, but vote No Award beyond that.

At least Steve Davidson of Amazing Stories said he’d still read everything, even if he’d weigh No Award higher than even the works by overtly liberal authors that Sad Puppies supporters dared to like. He’s gone from being a radical to sounding almost reasonable. Almost.

K. Tempest Bradford has stated that she wants people to embrace diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Granted, she did it by telling people to not read someone based on their skin color, gender identity, and sexual orientation, so it probably wasn’t the best way to do that; but she did include me as a valued minority, so I suppose that’s something. Problem is, her response to the Hugo Awards was pretty much the opposite of inclusion and tolerance. I’ll just quickly fisk it here.

Here’s a thing: I need people to stop responding to this Sad Puppies/Hugo thing with “well, if you want to change things, you should have voted.”

Well, it is a popular election. Why is the response such a universal “you should be excluded” rather than “okay, we should probably be looking to add more people to fandom so we’re not dominated by infiltrating, barbaric poseurs”?

First: **** you.

I should probably add that I’m editing for content due to her polite and reasoned tone.

Second: Has your **** been paying attention to the conversations in this community for the past 5, 10, 20, 30 years on this topic? because, if you haven’t, I invite you to shut your **** mouth.

Remember, if you spot someone expressing interest in something you enjoy, your response should not ever be “Awesome! Let me show you my favorite things and tell you why they’re great.” No, you should exclude that person until he or she has experienced all the pain and hardship you have gone through, read everything you’ve read, seen everything you’ve seen; and then, if that person is lucky, you might allow him or her to be a second-class geek until of the proper 30-year seniority.

You see, if you had been paying attention you’d know that lots of people do and did nominate. And in the past few years more and more people who care about diversity in SFF have been making an effort to join the WorldCon voting ranks.

THIS IS WHY SAD PUPPIES EXISTS. Not because some people just happened to decide, but because the mostly white mostly male contingent of whiny **** saw that there was a shift happening toward a more diverse Hugo slate and away from their ilk and decided to work against it. And bring in people fro outside of the community to help them.

Last week, I went through the final ballot totals for the past several years. Since Ms. Bradford is specifically referring to nominations, I’ll just list those ballot totals by year as well. I counted backward until I was unable to find official vote totals from the committee itself.

  • 2008: 483
  • 2009: 639
  • 2010: 854
  • 2011: 1,006
  • 2012: 1,101
  • 2013: 1,343
  • 2014: 1,923
  • 2015: 2,122

Now, while I may not be a real fan, I do find those numbers interesting. The nomination totals weregrowing before Sad Puppies 1 in 2013, so perhaps Ms. Bradford is correct about one thing. Perhaps more people have been coming to nominate works for the Hugo Awards, creating more diversity. The difference between 2012 and 2013, though, is the largest of any previous year I could find data on (an increase of 242 ballots), while the difference the following year (580) is larger than the total number of nomination ballots in 2008.

Since there’s no data on the skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identities of the participants, I’m forced to conclude that the sane response to such a huge upswing is actually for her and those who share her opinions on literature to go on a voting drive. After all, even with the huge amount of press the Hugos got because of Sad Puppies 3, nomination votes only increased by 199. That’s less than could be attributed to Sad Puppies 1, even if all new voters were pro-Puppy.

That means, Ms. Bradford, that you have a very good chance of responding to this campaign with one of your own. Even right now, since you can still register to vote in the Hugo Awards, you’ve got a very good chance of pulling off a campaign to vote “No Award” by pulling in more like-minded voters. Expand the voter base and bring in new blood to prove you’re not a fringe group.

If you don’t **** know this then you should keep your opinions in your head.

Or be vitriolic.

Third: If you can’t or don’t attend WorldCon, the only way to vote is to become a supporting member. That costs $50. Does everyone have $50 to spend on this? No, no they don’t. As I said, in the past few years there has been an upsurge in people willing to do so because they feel it’s important. But again, the mostly white mostly men who are involved in Sad Puppies and the mostly white, mostly men brought in from gamer gate have money to spare (this is often a result of said whiteness and maleness). For them $50 is no big deal. For others it is not.

I actually find myself resenting that. I’m not rich. I’ve been struggling to get by. I put aside $40 (yes, she got the price wrong, people can make mistakes; don’t attack her for that) in previous years because I thought it was worth it. A lot more people on the pro-Puppy side have been saying they can’t afford it themselves this year, but hope to do so next year.

That said, if being able to vote is a sign of economic elitism as a result of race and gender, doesn’t that mean that the Hugos themselves have always been set up as a playground for rich, racist, and sexist? None of this has changed in previous years.

Well, actually, the price of a supporting membership was $30 last year. It’s gone up by $10 for this year. Is that the fault of the racist, sexist, rich white men on the Worldcon committee?

To be honest, I’m tired of politics in my entertainment, from both sides of the political heptaract. I’m tired of people defaulting to political accusations first and foremost, just because it fits an ideological narrative.

So **** cut it out acting like “Oh, you can just vote”. It’s not that simple.

Yes, it is. I’ll just lay it out there. The Hugos have never been free. Nothing has changed. You pay to play. I know families that are struggling to get by; they’re not voting. Others have the money, but just don’t care. $40 is a lot to some people, and a pittance to others; but it does ensure that those who think it worth it are the ones who vote.

This is what Sad Puppies was founded against: hatred, vitriol, and dismissal because of skin color, plumbing layout, dating history, whether they pray and whether they do it the right way. So that “science fiction’s most prestigious award” can be one voted on by fans rather than Social Fiction Warriors.

And what makes a fan? From where I sit, the definition’s rather simple. Do you seek to join groups of people with shared interests? Do you like talking about those shared interests? Are you open to people with new interests that you might like too?

Real Fan

Congratulations. You’re a real fan.

I don’t care if you’re pro-Puppy or anti-Puppy. I don’t care about your skin color, where your pipes are laid, who you’ve dated or want to date, what your age, religion, political affiliation, or yearly income might be. If you’re a fan, you should be proud of that. Don’t listen to people who say you can’t be a fan because you lack the experience, because the Internet makes it to easy to organize and find like-minded people, because the books totally don’t match up to the movies — you. Are. A. Fan.

Take my love, take my land . . .

And if you happen to be a fan with forty bucks to spare, consider joining us at the Hugos this summer. Vote your conscience. If you think Sad Puppies is horrible and ruining the award and genuinely think that voting No Award is better . . . well, we’ll disagree, but I will not say you shouldn’t vote. I won’t disqualify you and say you’re being racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other kind of bigotry simply because of that vote. I assume everyone is civilized until proven otherwise.

And I assume everyone who says he or she is a fan is, in fact, a fan. And if they happen to have overlooked something I love, I don’t ridicule them for it. I tell them it’s great, and they should try it.

The one thing I’ll ask is that you consider who out there is calling you a fake geek girl, and who is saying “Hey, did you read this? It’s great.”