The problem with nerds

As someone with lifelong nerdy interests, I feel qualified to speak on this issue. It’s not an attack, just an observation.

A significant portion of the “community,” especially those into science fiction, are shockingly rigid and literal in their thinking.

The people I’m speaking of could see a beautiful painting of an alien landscape with a spaceship soaring overhead, and the first thing that comes to their minds is “How can I nitpick this for scientific inaccuracies?

It’s as if these people, who purportedly love a genre based almost entirely in imagination, cannot grasp the idea of creative license. I’m convinced there’s some sort of shared mental disorder that renders them incapable of just enjoying things for what they are.

Star Trek fans are some of the worst offenders:

Notice how this dude couldn’t just allow himself to enjoy the pic without mentioning some minor flaw. It drives them nuts, though. I don’t get it. I might notice things like that myself, especially in comic books, but it’s hardly anything to complain about, in my estimation.

That’s why when I make Star Trek memes, I go out of my way to make them just a little bit “wrong.” It’s fascinating to me to see them completely miss or overlook the point of a joke and focus on how many pips are on an officer’s uniform. Sometimes I reverse the images to put everything on the wrong side. I know it drives them nuts, and I get a kick out of it. This is one of my faves, here, because I didn’t expect the response it got. I wrongly assumed people would know it was a joke, because it’s so silly:

I recently posted a pic on Twitter of my collection of Analog and Asimov’s mags with the caption “My pulp fiction drawer.”

Several people pointed out to me that these are “digests” and not “pulp,” as I knew they would. Okay, duh. I know that. But there’s a movie called “pulp fiction.” Saying “pulp fiction drawer” sounded cooler to me than “drawer full of digest-sized periodicals.”

You know the old stereotype about geeks not being able to get girlfriends? It’s true, and this is why. They’re probably like that about everything in life. Myself, though, I like to keep one foot in the real world, and the other in fantasyland, and maintain a healthy balance between the two. Social awareness is important to me. I can walk amongst both geeks and cool people and fit in with both, just being myself.

I wasn’t always like that, though. I was a nitpicker. I dressed up as Spock for Halloween one year when I was a kid, and a guy at one house asked me where I’d parked my spaceship. I responded with a lecture about how the Enterprise doesn’t land. I look back on that and cringe, but I was a kid, after all. I grew out of that. Some people don’t, and that’s simultaneously sad, annoying and hilarious.

There are legions of science fiction fans out there who absolutely cannot restrain themselves from being Halloween Spock. Bless their hearts, but their input matters not to me, especially when it comes to my own creative works. I’m true to myself and my vision.

5 thoughts on “The problem with nerds

  1. I love laughing about the “science” of science fiction…. but that doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy it!! Like you said, it’s using the imagination.

    And those meme comments are RIDICULOUS. People are dumb.

  2. My take: it’s one thing when people hold something purporting to be hard sci-fi to a certain standard of accuracy. That’s to be expected, but they run into problems when they start trying to apply it to things not intended to be that. Movies and TV, for example. There are a ton of people who complain about how spaceships onscreen are always “right side up” or facing each other when there is no direction in space. Or that there’s always sound. They can’t grasp certain things being there simply for dramatic effect. Yes, everyone knows there is no sound in space. It would look really dumb, though, if you had silent laser battles between upside-down spaceships. At some point scientific plausibility has to reach a compromise with what actually “works” for an audience. Realities of space travel can be boring and things like muscle atrophy and organ displacement resulting from a long-term space voyages aren’t fun and exciting. It’s easier to work around these factors in detail in a book but you can also bog it down with too much of that stuff if it isn’t “that kind” of book. There are tiers to this stuff, and if you’re writing a heroes-and-villains space opera, it’s okay to gloss over the lack of zero-G with fantasy tech like “artificial gravity” and just leave it at that and move on with the plot. If you want to shoot someone into space and have them turn into an icicle, that’s creative license used for dramatic effect even though it’s not what would actually happen Whereas in a hard sci-fi story the reader has specifically sought out more lengthy and plausible explanations. I appreciate all the various tiers as long as there’s a compelling story at the core. I think a good rule of thumb is to be aware of the scientific realities and break them/make exceptions if that’s the kind of book you’re writing. Arthur C Clarke’s “songs of distant earth” is one of my favorite books of all time, and it goes to great lengths to make deep space travel sound scientifically plausible, with the ice shield protecting the hull from bits of space debris, etc. And it works for that book. But it doesn’t work for everything. Not everything needs that. People go looking for it in content that doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of detail and therein lies the problem.
    “Lucifer’s Hammer” is another classic example of hard science-based storytelling that excels at what it sets out to do. But fine wine isn’t something you chug on a hot summer’s day. You reach for a cold beer because it works better in that setting. Sometimes I want to read something hard, other times I’m more into green-skinned, English-speaking humanoid/reptilian aliens with swords and laser guns. Sometimes I want a character-driven story that focuses much less on science than on how the characters are interacting. Sometimes I want progressive rock with lots of odd time signatures and jazzy drum fills, and sometimes I just want to hear 4/4 rock and roll with catchy riffs and choruses. It’s all part of the tapestry of creativity.

  3. I am in complete agreement with you here, Patrick. Sometimes it’s a Star Trek day and sometimes it’s Peter F Hamilton and sometimes it’s Philip K Dick. They all have their place and we should take them for what they are. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote some pretty cool, fantastical hard science fiction in his Red Mars series… hard to grasp at times and at times, you think it’s the only way it could happen. Anyway, I am one of those people who takes things quite literally, but when it comes to something like books/movies, creative license and just using one’s imagination is why I read it. It doesn’t always have to make sense. I shouldn’t need alllll the details. Just let it be what it is: a good story that’s entertaining and makes me think.

  4. I mean, I would think so too, but I think it’s a matter of the term “pulp” just having fallen out of fashion. They’re literally the same thing. Small newsprint magazines full of short stories. Who knows? They knew what I meant, though and just wanted to be contentious because they’re grouchy from lack of vitamins or something.

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