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ATPM 10.08
August 2004


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Review: Just a Geek (book)

by Ellyn Ritterskamp,

Publisher: O’Reilly
Author: Wil Wheaton

Price: $25

Trial: Sample Chapter

Wil Wheaton decided to grow up. He didn’t do it until he was nearly 30, but that’s OK. (I didn’t start until I was 25, and I didn’t really get moving until I was 33.) In his new book Just a Geek, Wheaton walks us through the turning points, when he went from successful child actor, to good-but-mostly-unpaid actor, to husband and dad, to weblogger, to writer.


Wheaton started a blog a few years ago that has become a well-respected celebrity site. He has made it something other than a celebrity site, though, because when he started it, he was trying to figure out if he was still a celebrity. He taught himself the tools of building a good page, and began to write about himself and the things he believes in. Here is his site, and it really is kind of cool, watching him grow up in front of us. Note: Wheaton is comfortable with some profanity on the blog and in the book, so some readers will want to stay away.

He was encouraged to turn his blog entries into a book, which became Just a Geek. He didn’t have room for some pieces, which were released in a paperback book called Dancing Barefoot. As it was presented, Dancing Barefoot showed promise but lacked narrative coherence, since it was leftovers. This book does not have that issue, as it is almost entirely narrative, and is really more autobiographical than anything else. That may be its singular flaw.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an engaging, well-related story of a few years in the life of the writer. The thing is, after a while you realize it is nearly all about Wil. Dancing Barefoot had a few pieces about other people in Wheaton’s life, and this book, even though it’s longer, somehow has less of that. There are indeed some great stories about reunions with Star Trek: The Next Generation cast members, and he mentions some other people in his life. But part of the charm of the first book was that it showed a lot of the interaction of Wheaton with those around him.

This book is heavily loaded with Wil talking to himself. I understand that’s what his blog readers probably wanted, and I learned a lot about how he resolved his conflicts with himself. I like the way he presented various aspects of himself as their own characters, who bicker and quarrel with each other. After a while, though, it just got to be a little more Wil than I was ready for. Maybe I was just tripped up by my expectations: I was looking for more short stories, and what I got was an autobiography of Wil Wheaton, age 15-30. The book is in fact listed as autobiography/science fiction, so it’s my own fault.

This book will appeal most to folks who have been insecure about their interaction with others, as it provides a look at ways to get off that train. Wheaton is not insecure about his talent, and that’s appropriate. He spent too much of his life trying to please other people, and when he quit doing that, he got happy. Wheaton does not discuss his Web coding learning process in enough detail to interest readers who are only in it for the technical element. Just a Geek will appeal to ST:TNG fans, and I would think the ones who hated Wheaton’s character might learn something from him. Those of us who liked his character are going to like the book, because we saw all along that Wesley Crusher represented the awe in all of us.

Now that Wheaton has chosen to be a writer, and has gotten the obligatory writing-about-myself phase out of the way, I hope he has the courage to try a story in which he is not already involved. I want to see if he can dream up a fictional character and make us want to follow that story. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with writing about yourself and your family; Pat Conroy made a great career out of it. I just think Wheaton has some stuff to say, about animals, and free speech, maybe the environment, and I don’t know what else, and he may not even know what some of it is yet. Now he knows he has the courage to keep transforming himself.

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