Geek Gravy
by Lesley Reece

About a year ago I was out on a date with this guy I was sort of trying to impress. He took me to a fairly upscale bar and we sat there drinking Guinness. Well, I was drinking; he was telling me about all the reading he had to do to get his degree. Quite a list. I sat there nodding. I’d had to read a lot of the same books myself.

In the middle of a thread about Milton, he suddenly asked, "So have you been reading much lately?"

"Um," I said, "Yeah." What a stupid question to ask an English major. Of course I’d been reading. It was just that after a discussion about Milton, I didn’t want to tell him what. I examined the foam on my Guinness. It was perfectly smooth except for the lip print I’d made in it.

"What have you been reading?"

Okay, I thought, I’ll just say it and see what he does. "A casebook of essays about cyborgs," I said.

"Cyborgs? You mean, like…"

"Cybernetic organisms," I said. "Part biological, part technological." I waited, still looking at my pint.

"I didn’t know you liked…" I looked up. Yup. He was making an ‘eeyewww’ face. I knew it.

"Science fiction," he finished. My reaction surprised me. I didn’t apologise. I went on the offensive.

"Yeah?" I said, as snippy as I could make it. "So?"

The guy was no fool; he knew he’d just lost at least a hundred points on the date-o-meter. For the next half hour, he sat there back-pedalling so much he was practically beeping, while I thought about what I’d just done. I’d defended science fiction, in front of an academic, an academic that, until this turn of the conversation, I’d found reasonably attractive. I could have lied and told him I was reading Alexander Pope or Pamela or something. It wouldn’t have been that tough. But I hadn’t.

I knew what that meant. I was a fan. How had this happened to me? I’d been very reluctant to get involved.

Victor Gonzalez introduced me to Andy Hooper, and I started hanging around drinking beer and unwittingly providing linos while they were putting Apparatchik together. Eventually, they started trying to get me to write for them.

I kept saying no. At the meetings, I folded and labelled while Victor hammered and expostulated - "There’s no reason for you not to write for us; we want you to; you have to do it," and Andy suggested and hinted - "Well, think of how nice it’d be to make new friends and get fanzines; think of how much less work it’d be for me and Victor."

I honestly wasn’t into it. I had a lot of reservations. D.West’s Performance, which the guys loaned me and told me to read, actually caused most of them. I don’t have my own copy, but I remember the general tone - there are rules, but we’re not going to tell you what they are; when you violate these rules you aren’t aware of, we’re going to snicker at you and tell you that you suck. That didn’t sound very fun. I wasn’t afraid of people snickering at me and telling me I sucked - I’m sure it’ll be mostly fans reading this, so I don’t even have to go into how I was a total geek when I was a kid. I’m less geeky now, but a lifetime of exposure to unfounded execration has toughened me against such pettiness. It wouldn’t have been anything new.

The thing with having rules didn’t bother me that much, either. If fandom was a competition, then of course it had rules. It just seemed like people were going to be looking sideways at me no matter how well I wrote, because I hadn’t been around as long as they had. I thought that was sort of undemocratic.

It was my choice to play or not, so I decided I’d stay out of it. I’d always written. Back then, I rarely showed anything I wrote to anyone, so I wasn’t doing it for money or recognition. I wasn’t even sure I liked doing it; all I knew was that I wrote. I wasn’t about to ask D.West (or anyone else) for his goddamned permission to keep going. I didn’t need it, any more than I needed some bunch of strangers looking at me sideways because I couldn’t figure their stupid rules out.

I said as much to Victor, and he was incensed. "You’re wrong!" he cried, waving a fanzine in the air. "There’s no Fannish Rule Book!"

I wasn’t buying that. If there are rules, there has to be a rulebook, even if it’s only in people’s heads. I told him he was full of shit. I don’t know why the Apparatchiki kept trying to change my mind after that. I guess they thought it was a challenge or something, because the discussions continued for a few more months. Finally, I caved in when I realised the truth of my own argument. If I truly didn’t care about getting permission, I had no reason not to publish. If criticism really wouldn’t bother me, I had nothing to lose.

I’m glad now that they didn’t give up. Writing for a biweekly (and later triweekly) zine was good for me in terms of discipline. Getting feedback from my very talented editors didn’t hurt, either. I hadn’t expected any "real-world" benefits in return for getting involved with fandom. That was gravy.

Even better, though, I’ve found that fandom is a place full of other people like me, people who actually want to have two-hour conversations about cyborgs, or Philip K. Dick, or any of the other stuff I think is really interesting and cool but bores most other people to tears. These are people who read what I write, and some of them like it and say so. It isn’t like a family exactly, but it doesn’t seem like a competition either, at least not compared to the rest of life, where you have to watch what you say and lie about what book you’re reading in case someone might think you’re a geek.

I think that’s great. If you disagree, and you’re currently unattached, I know a very nice guy you could go out with. He’s probably still single.

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