'Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths' Should Strike Fear in the Hearts of Nerds

by John Garratt

29 December 2015

Sci-fi/fantasy fan culture has now crawled so far up its own backside that we might as well refer to it as the dark side.
 
cover art

Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths

Ryan Britt

(Plume)
US: Nov 2015

Whatever goes up will come down. Turn right enough times and you will eventually find yourself heading left. Keep something in the shadows long enough and it will, in due course, enjoy its day in the sun. After a trend has enjoyed some sun, it goes the way of fish and houseguests.

The popularization of nerd culture, for lack of a better term, has worn out its reluctantly-granted welcome and Ryan Britt’s paperback collection of blog fodder is proof. The name alone is cringe-worthy; Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths. Britt, a writer for Tor.com and contributor to dozens of other sci-fi/fantasy-centric media outlets, uses the cover of his own book as a proclamation of truth.

What truth, you ask? On things that really get to the heart of our world at large, like how Luke Skywalker can’t read. It’s not that he won’t read or that we just never see him read or that the protagonist of the original Star Wars films just never had the time or resources to read, it’s that he truly cannot read. And that’s the geeky truth.

How do we know that for sure? The answer lies somewhere within the judge, jury, and executioner’s 14 essays, and it has something to do with the Aurebesh alphabet and a supposedly lack of books in that galaxy far, far away.

If you’re looking for some sort of central gist to Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths before learning more about it or purchasing it, the most practical and thereby broadest description demotes it to the land of late night bull sessions where grand hypotheticals are all you have to show for your intellectual vigor. Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is a collection of essays where Britt boasts of his ability to read between the cultural lines when it comes to Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and so on. If it never crossed your mind that Sherlock Holmes was (ostensibly) treated by Spock as a real-life character in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country but was treated as a fictional character by Commander Data on the long-running series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Britt swoops down with his essay named “Baker Streets on Infinite Earths: Sherlock Holmes as the Eternal Sci-Fi Superhero” to condescendingly explain that this is a matter of great importance.

His anecdotal story of being Kim Cattrall’s server one evening and complimenting her on her performance in The Undiscovered Country is of no use outside of some I Briefly Met Someone Famous points, but his hang-ups over how the world chooses to remember the character of Sherlock Holmes can help us put Britt’s attitude in perspective. Since I never noticed this supposed anachronism the first time around, I chalk it up to writers getting confused. A different set of hands were typing a different string of words to be recited by a different set of mouths—along the way, someone forget to make Holmes “real” again. Big deal.

But Britt isn’t having it. “I’m obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, but am impatient that I’ve met almost no one you likes the Jeremy Brett adaptations as much as I do,” he complains, apropos of next-to-nothing on page two of his introductory chapter “Out of the Sideshows”. Let’s wait until the ghost of Brett is done playing the world’s smallest violin before we continue.

After the introduction, where nine pages are used to explain that geeks were once marginalized and now they’re sort of hip, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read gets off to a moderately enlightened start as Britt recalls his exposure to the Jane Fonda film Barbarella at a young age. Encouraged by his late father to get a crash course in space babes, Britt instead saw this bizarre, sexually-charged saga from the late ‘60s as not only a radical holdover from the sexual revolution, but as a gateway to sci-fi itself and the possibilities of human imagination. The title character is, as Britt describes it, a “reverse-James Bond” who can use her libido to get the intergalactic job done.

A ridiculously campy film that some feminists love and other feminists hate to love, the Barbarella imbued the young Britt with the ‘60s idealism that anything was possible. Sci-fi could be anything you wanted it to be. If you wanted your story to be about a ray gun-toting woman who breaks a machine through the power of orgasm, then the reasons to write that story seem to outnumber reasons not to write it.

That about wraps it up as far as sci-fi and fantasy taking a pragmatic shake at the outside world. Britt moves on to a job he held in a book store where he failed to alphabetize the Star Wars books properly and how he went out of his way to discourage The Matrix as derivative in front of his fellow employees. From this point forward, the rest of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is about how Britt is right in his own mind and how he speaks for everyone. “Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes” reads the title of an essay where Britt defends the endless and soulless tunnel of superhero reboots. Nobody, huh? “Everyone always forgets that Kirk has a son in The Wrath [of Khan], too.”

Everyone, did you say? “[W]e tend to brush aside the fact that Kirk’s son is killed in The Search for Spock. For Star Trek to go back to being Star Trek, Captain Kirk, it seems, had to stop being someone’s father.” (page 148) The assumption that Captain Kirk has become a surrogate father to generations of nerds is too reliant on a few fallacies, anecdotal being just one of them.

Britt addresses American ethnocentrism through a rather unlikely lens—that of the Back to the Future film series. “Marty McFly and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, have endlessly suburban values, with aspiration that are humble and 100 percent relatable to most people. This is why everyone loves these movies: nothing happens outside of Hill Valley, because the American experience (in the mind of all Americans) is exactly the same way.” (page 93)

First of all, if one is to perform a take-down on America’s inability to see beyond its own borders, choose a target with more weight than Back to the Future. Secondly, what the hell are “endlessly suburban values”? Did someone try to measure the “values” of these two fictional characters (vehicles for time travel, more like) and gave up somewhere around the second set of quintillion? Thirdly, we’re subjected to more of this lazy “everyone” and “all Americans” rhetoric so that Britt can move forward and ponder the missing branches in Biff Tannen’s family tree.

Then there’s the essay after which the book is titled, explaining that Luke Skywalker is illiterate because we never see him read. Yet Ophira Eisenberg praised this book by saying “If Luke Skywalker had a favorite book, it would be this one.”

Luke Skywalker Can’t Read ends with a chapter about Star Wars called “The Fans Awaken”. He makes the case that the franchise went through a rough patch but that we should all be optimistic about its future with the eminent release of The Force Awakens. This chapter makes for a handy macroscopic view of the book; no matter how many obscure facts he tosses through the air and no matter how many asides he crams into his footnotes (of which he has far too many), the points he arrives at are pedestrian and inconsequential. J. R. R. Tolkein wrote his own rules, there have been many actors to play the role of Dr. Who, and robots will want to study mankind’s past because we were all such hip dressers (seriously).

All of this would matter far less if the book didn’t take itself so seriously. But Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths only puts on a frivolous face to briefly achieve an air of being crude and carefree, like when in the book’s concluding section “A Totally Incomplete Glossary of Terms” where Britt refers to dinosaurs as “permanently cool” that possess an “inherent awesomeness”. Even if the rest of the book was that flighty, that glossary entry for dinosaurs still warrants the striking of the head against the desk.

As it stands though, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths is as serious as a heart attack. It’s time for us nerds to go back to the drawing board—by which I mean the shadows. Nadirs aren’t quite so noticeable when we’re tucked away back there.

Luke Skywalker Can't Read and Other Geeky Truths

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