Nerds have been writing novels ever since Mary Shelley took a rainy day and gave us Frankenstein. While nerd writers since time beyond reckoning have been telling us tales of gods, werewolves, space marines, talking horses, astronauts, hobbits, vampires, knights, shrinking men, Martians, and spandex-clad mutants, we have only recently begun to use the novel form to tell properly tell stories about ourselves.
It may be the geek that inherits the Earth, but you can work up your own hero in our new Inkshares contest. You can still jump into the fray with ink and paper in hand. Or if you don’t have an idea, start voting for the book you want to see hit the shelves. If you are looking for more inspiration, check out the three books about geeky heroes below.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Imagine a Mad Max future, but with video games, and you’re on your way to Ready Player One.
In the future, a global energy crisis smacks civilization in the face. Suburbanites flood into the cities, where life is walkable, abandoning their cars on the side of the highway like oversized aluminum cans. Our world is rusting, run-down, and thick with mold and motor oil. As protagonist Wade Watts says, “For me, growing up as a human being on the planet Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.”
OASIS, a massively multiplayer online game which puts all other MMOs to shame, is the one bright spot the world has to offer. It is described as “an escape hatch into a better reality.” People grow up in OASIS, they are taught by its programming, and public schools have even been transferred into it.
The novel tells the story of video game and pop culture warrior Wade Watt, a senior in high school who is on a quest for the greatest Easter egg in video game history: a key that will earn the finder the entire fortune of James Halliday, creator of OASIS. And the key is hidden within the game itself.
Oh, and Halliday happened to be obsessed with gaming and the 1980s (Oingo Boingo is referenced in the first five pages!), and knowledge of obscure Dungeons & Dragons scenarios is crucial to follow the clues to Halliday’s treasure…
The constant stream of nerd lore that Cline gushes forth in Ready Player One transcends the genre of science fiction. This is a novel about what it means to be a nerd. It is a novel about us.
Nerd culture in Ready Player One is not a mere pastime or sign that a character failed to successfully navigate the challenges of puberty. Rather, it is a logical and beautiful response to the horrors of the world around us.
Dangerous Games: How to Play by Matt Forbeck
Gen Con is the gathering of the geek nation, the once-yearly pressing of bosoms in Indianapolis, Indiana, which for four days a year becomes the happiest place on Earth. Attendees are loyal, coming consecutively for decades. (Forbeck himself celebrated his 35th consecutive Gen Con this past August.) But for one unlucky game designer, this year’s Gen Con was their last.
Allen Varney was found dead, covered in his own blood in an alley outside the Diana Jones Award.
And it will fall to one novice game designer (who also happens to have just graduated from police academy) named Liam Parker, to bring Varney’s murderer to justice. Nerd king and Wizards of the Coast founder Peter Adkinson himself tasks Parker with the job.
Liam is going to have one rough con.
Dangerous Games is a fascinating read for those steeped in the deep lore of role-playing. Forbeck plays extensively and mercilessly with real people in his novel. For example, murder victim Allen Varney is a real-life game designer. He worked on Paranoia and Epic Mickey. But in the novel, Forbeck gives him cancer, and then has his throat slit in a dark alley that smells like hot dogs. Dracula Dossier writer and emperor of all he surveys Ken Hite is the booze-fueled Ben Kenobi to Liam Parker’s Skywalker, introducing him to important people and teaching him the ways of the con.
Author Matt Forbeck is one of the creators of the legendary weird west role-playing game Deadlands (Have you seen the game’s successful new Kickstarter?), and he writes about the RPG industry with an insider’s eye. Forbeck said of the novel’s writing, “[W]hen I wanted to try my hand at mysteries and thrillers, I thought of the one place I know better than most writers: Gen Con. It not only gave me the chance to write a fun, riveting story but also to draw back the curtain and show people what it’s like to be a professional game designer at the biggest tabletop games convention in the world.”
Dangerous Games is more than just a murder mystery. It’s a peek into the personalities and peculiarities of the people that make the games we love.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by wordsmith and D&D fanatic Junot Diaz tells the story of a Dominican-American immigrant family and their nerd son, Oscar. Oscar is an undergrad at Rutgers, but is much more interested in being the “Dominican JRR Tolkien” than in anything else. He is also constantly falling for women who are avowedly out of his league.
In addition to writing books that receive glowing reviews in Muggle publications like The New York Times, Diaz is a believer in the importance of Dungeons & Dragons as a cultural force. Listen to him talk about how D&D changed his life below.
Maybe you have a better nerd-hero fighting in your head. Does she show bravery in the face of danger or know how to get out of any situation? Maybe now is a good time to enter our Inkshares Fantasy contest. You can turn those notes into a book or even the next series to hit the big screen. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Will you be the next writer who breaks the mold?
What nerd novels do you love? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy Penguin Random House.
Other images courtesy Penguin Random House,