I rip shit and backflip like a Jedi

Jennifer, friend of Per Aspera, sent me a link to a trailer for documentary a friend of hers has done. It looks friggin’ great:

And today, it totally got BoingBoinged. Which is kind of unsurprising, actually, because this is straight up their alley.

Nearly concurrently, Eric, who is like a brother to Per Aspera, sent a link to some YouTube clips of the Minibosses, an NES cover band. Here they are doing Ninja Gaiden:

There is nothing that is not awesome about that. They do Metroid, too.

I’ma go off on a tangent for a moment: You may or may not be aware that SF, as a literary genre, is declining in market share these days. I’m not really plugged into any of the various fandoms, but I read around on the intertubes, and have seen more than one person worrying that SF is going to go the way of the Western and Men’s Adventure genres, which pretty much don’t exist anymore. What’s to be done? Why’s it happening? Charlie Stross thinks it’s happening because, basically, we’re living the speculative fiction these days, with technological change itself shifting genres from industrial to information, making what used to be a respectably Newtonian chain of progressive innovation poof out and get all cloudy.

SF as a genre evolved during a period of industrialization and standardization and rapid linear progress. It was both an escapist literature and a didactic form that lent its readers some exposure to new ideas about how they might live in future. But things have gone non-linear, and a lot of the future has arrived today, albeit in bastardized form. Want to go live on Mars? Tough, you can’t — but you can download travel albums from the red planet til you’re blue in the face. Want to go live on an alien world? Go visit Japan — it’s not that expensive — or explore the Goth night club scene in Ulan Bator (I’m informed it has one). We don’t need SF for pre-adaptation to the future: the future is now.

And now is Nerdcore For Life. Now, the final frontier is social, cultural, sociological, political.

We’ve arrived in a different future, and central planning doesn’t work. Things are fast, chaotic, cheap, and out of control. Ad hoc is the new plan. There’s a new cultural strange attractor at work, sucking in the young, smart, deracinated mechanistically-minded readers who used to be the natural prey of the SF movement. It’s geek culture. You can find it in the pages of Wired (although it’s a pale shadow of what it used to be) and on Boing!Boing! and Slashdot. You can find them playing MMORPGs and hacking their game consoles. These people have different interests from the old generation of SF readers. And unfortunately they don’t buy many [fiction] books, because we aren’t, for the most part, writing for them.

This isn’t to say that they don’t read. There is a literary culture that switches on the geeks: it started out as a branch of SF. Yes, I’m talking about cyberpunk. But while cyberpunk was a seven day wonder within the SF field, which subsequently lost interest, the geeks recognized themselves in its magic mirror and made it their own. This is the future they live in, not the future of Star Wars and its imitators, of the futures of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. And in addition to cyberpunk — the golden age SF taproots of their field — some of us are beginning to address their concerns. Among the quintessentially geek authors, the brightest names are Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow and Douglas Coupland and (in his latest incarnation) Bruce Sterling. (I’d like to append my own name to that list, if only to bask in their reflected glory.)

The authors I listed above are not writing SF for your traditional SF readers. They are writing something quite different, even if the forms are similar, because the underlying assumptions about the way the universe works are different. There’s no need for the readers to internalize a bizarrely rehashed bundle of strange ideological preconceptions about the role of science and technology in society, which have accreted remorselessly since the 1930s until much modern science fiction is incomprehensible and alienating to the outside world; that’s because they are writing fiction that is based in the world-view of the present day. You don’t need to study golden age SF and its literary conventions to get Neal Stephenson, because rather than constantly referring back to it, he references (a) the science fictional zeitgeist in popular culture, and (b) the cultural milieu and outlook of WIRED’s readership. Which is why he managed to write a 1100 page novel about cryptography with a plot that didn’t quite join up in the middle, and it still outsold everything else on the map. He’s got your audience, right here, buddy, right here in the palm of his hand. Thanks to generation slashdot.

The audience I’m talking about is today’s successor to the traditional SF readers of yore. They’re smart, not brilliantly well socialized because their energies have been going elsewhere, and they increasingly self-identify as geeks. We are competing for their attention time with computer games, video, the internet, and fuck-knows-what new bleeding edge media that haven’t made it our event horizon of self-absorption yet: anime, manga, machinima, your guess is as good as mine. They don’t, yet, have a separate section in the bookstore, but they know what they like to read and they get it from the fringes of the mainstream and the edges of the genre and the core of the slipstream. And their time is coming. If you’re a writer and you still want to be in business in something vaguely resembling SF in thirty years time, study them.

People don’t just write books about spaceships, they post about documentaries about MC’s rapping about books about spaceships.

UPDATE: Y’all have been quoted.


29 thoughts on “I rip shit and backflip like a Jedi

  1. Jennifer

    Thanks for posting it, man, I knew it was up your alley.

    I’m still trying to decide my favorite part. Is it where the guy compares nerd oppression to the Civil Rights movement? Is it where the other guy explains nerd rapping as being the same as rolling for traits in D&D as if everyone will get the analogy? Is it the slow-mo shots of people playing Dance Dance Revolution?

  2. pedro

    These nerds take themselves way too seriously. It’s like everything bad about nerds made real…we’re hardly an oppressed class (or group) on par with minorities or gays!

    And an 18 in MCing? Why not get an 18 in charisma instead, you tool? That 4 bonus to social interactions is what you need…not knowing how to drop a rhyme. Bards were never cool.

  3. Ananth

    Pedro, I think you take the nerds to seriously, thinking you need to vocalize that nerds != (Gays || Minorities).

  4. Eric

    No, I’m with Pedro on this one. Bards were only cool in Baldur’s Gate II when you got to crazy high levels and that’s only cuz they could wear armor AND cast spells. If you’re going to pretend to be someone cool, they have to actually be cool. And have a sword or superpower. That’s like Nerd 101. Or if you’re trying to get chicks you at least have to play an instrument (see Minibosses).

    If white dudes can rap (see Everlast or Eminem), then white nerds have a shot. I support anyone or anything that makes obscure references to movies/books/games I dig (see Steve’s post title), but shmucks rapping is shmucks rapping. These are the people who play WoW on a Roleplaying server. Whole other ballgame. I think Bloodhound Gang is a little more what I would consider “nerdcore”.

    And why do the dance dance revolution dorks have to be lumped in with us nerds.

    It’s finals week and I’m not sleepin enough to touch the sci-fi discussion, plus this rant is enough procrastination for now, but I agree with most of what that dude was saying. Robert Jordan killed any hope I had around book 8 and now I must content myself with Harry Potter.

  5. pedro

    Have you tried:

    World War Z by Max Barry
    Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (Came out a couple of years ago)
    The Forge of God by Greg Bear (STUPID old. But came out before I was into serious sci-fi. Just finished a little while ago. excellent).
    The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner (Okay. Way older, but like I said. Serious sci-fi wasn’t my thing in the 80s).

    I tend to agree that the sci-fi nerds among us are probably designing awesome video games or creating the latest instance in WoW instead of writing a kickass sci-fi book. But I also think that sci-fi comes in literary cycles and we’re currently not in one. Right now we’re the zombie-novel cycle…mixed with superhero devices. It’s a strange time. If I was at all academic, I could probably write a book about the way media rolls into cycles in America or some shit about how NBC’s Heroes and Zombies are popular cause we’re all afraid and Zombies Heroes are two of the awesomest metaphors or some shit like that.

    Also, Heroes, Firefly, BSG….sci fi is out there. It’s just not in print, yo.

    And Eric…Everlast can’t rap. Christ.

  6. Tom

    I think the documentary has some blurring of the hipster/nerd line. The problem with muddling up the taxonomy being that nerds don’t have sex (with people), hipsters do.

    I mean, there’s occasional nerd-on-nerd sex, but some of those girls looked very hipster-ish, more likely to have hipster-on-hipster sex. Worth parsing out.

  7. Steve

    The problem with muddling up the taxonomy being that nerds don’t have sex (with people), hipsters do.

    Bro, everybody has sex. Nerds have sex with each other all the time. And there is certainly overlap on the Nerd/Hipster Venn diagram. I’m not sure the bright line you’re looking for exists here.

    And Pedro, Everlast was, in fact, a very good rapper.

    Additionally, I do agree that SF is everywhere in the culture. Which is part of Stross’ point, I think. With video games, TV, cinema, and comic books all over the place, there may be less demand for SF in the form of writing.

    The superhero/zombie thing is most definitely related to the fact that we feel powerless as a culture and a polity, I think you’re right.

  8. pedro

    I was agreeing with Strop in that sense. In a world where people get their ears stapled to lose weight or their brains lasered to quit smoking…what room is there for science fiction? I mean…science fiction is happening now at such a fast rate I don’t think there is much time to be afraid of the developments before they become a reality.

    On top of this, we’ve really embraced techonology. American culture (particularly) is sick with it. Absolutely lousy with techonology solving all our little (and big) problems. Fuck. We win wars in days because our reliance on technology (though none of it helps with occupations…but that’s a different dead-horse to beat upon).

    I think the zombie/heroes thing is really awesome when it comes to helplessness right now. The zombie metaphor of losing yourself in the masses and being unable to even trust your fellow man (or neighbor) is so perfect for the general feeling right now. We’re absolutely feeling helpless and that guy on the train sitting near us could just as easily turn us into Homeland Security as blow up the train in the name of religion. We’re that scared. But at the same time, we hope that something will rise up and save us…the hero/superhero metaphor kicks in! I can see a similar vein of media being produced during the cold war…from the EC morality comics to the Superman/Silver Age comics/move serials to the zombie horrors of the 60s/70s (though some of that was a racial fear of Haiti…the evil so close to us!). It’s kind of crazy and interesting and if only I wasn’t working so hard, I could form a coherent thought around it and get my goddamn phd.

    So yeah. Some Nerds are hipsters, but not all hipsters are nerds. So where’s the line? Hipsters traditionally say what is “cool” and the fuckers seem to think that my own childhood is the best thing since punkrock…but I don’t know. How much of it is tongue-in-cheek cleverness (ala Bloodhound Gang/Beastie Boys) and how much of it is actually Nerdcore as a movement? I wonder if the documentary covers that.

    Also, how could we not give props to Wu-Tang and Kool Keith/Dr. Octagon and Beastie Boys as sort of the grand papas of the Nerdcore movement? They’ve been dropping references to nerd culture for fucking years before some CA band played Ninja Gaiden!

  9. Tom

    Did you notice the resemblance of the plane scene in Superman to some 9/11 images? It’s like America wants Superman to grab the planes before they hit. American Studies majors everywhere must have been creaming themselves.

    The nerd/hipster line seems related to choice. Nerds don’t choose to be nerds, they just like what they like. Hipsters choose to be hipsters. Though, since hipsters choose to like that which nerds actually like, nerds can spill over into hipsterhood.

    Did I tell you that Megan made me read a book that was, in the eyes of the ladies, a beautiful love story, but what any fool reared on sci-fi could realize was nerd-porn (The Time Traveler’s Wife). She’s joining us.

  10. Ananth

    First of All, Pedro, are you really feeling helpless that the guy next to on the train is going to turn you into Homeland Security? Maybe that is something on you, but I don’t think most people go around with a fear of being harrassed by the Feds. But maybe that’s just me.

    Much props for shouting out to the Wu. They all seem to have Marvel Comic alter egos, also even Ice-T thinks Everlast can rap, thus making a member of his Rhyme syndicate, if I am not mistaken.

    Also, You left out the 4400 on your list, and I hear the Lost Room currently on Sci/Fi is good.

    Heroes is good, but could be better. Also Jedis are not Science Fiction.

  11. Tom

    “I don’t think most people go around with a fear of being harrassed by the Feds”

    Ananth. Pedro is Puerto Rican. A glaring oversight on your part.

  12. Ananth

    Puerto Ricans can’t be deported…. They are allowed to be here legally, as part of Puerto Rico’s special relationship with the US.

  13. Eric

    First I’d like to thank Steve for catering to his base. I haven’t had a thoughtful nerd discussion in a while.

    Pedro everything you said is nullified by discounting Everlast. Go listen to House of Pain’s Fine Malt Lyrics again.

    And do I honestly feel the guy next to me on the train is going to blow it up? No, but it speaks to the mentality of the country/world. I’m definitely more observant on planes now making sure to find several big dudes who I’ll need to find when the shit goes down. I also now think twice when writing bad things about the President. I still do it, but with the thought it probably got stored somewhere or if I do it enough times my name will be added to some “watch” list whether that’s true or not.

  14. pedro

    I was more expressing a feeling of abject paranoia and fear, Ananth. I don’t know that I conciously think I’m going to be turned into Homeland Security, but I do know that in the deep dark parts of my psyche, I’m a paranoid mofo. And not just of terrorists or airborne disease (both of which can be homegrown…perfect for the zombie/heros metaphor) but also of the acceptance of the elimination of our civil liberties. I don’t want to go deeper on this post than that though…at least not here. I know we disagree on a lot, but surely we can talk about zombies in a nerdly context without trading blows on the administration?

    I mean…something has to explain the resurgence of Zombie Horror in the last five years and the growth in popularity of Superhero films besides simply good timing? It’s psyche. I think you’re right. American culture plebes are changing their shorts daily with excitement.

    As for Everlast, I stand corrected. I should have said “Everlast isn’t a rapper anymore. Christ.” Better? Arguing about musical tastes on this blog is like winning the fucking special olympics. You idiots have your tastes, I have mine. I never thought Everlast was any more than a talented front man for a Frat Boy band. Thinking of him as a rapper is foreign to me. For god’s sake…wasn’t his last shitty album a little bit country? He’s a poor man’s Beastie Boy.

    Enough of that.

    I did leave out 4400 and Lost room, but I don’t have cable, so those shows are out when I talk…since I don’t know anything about them. I wonder if dvds of those series are out yet…I’d like to check ’em out.. Are they in the second season? Sci Fi channel’s growth in popularity in general could be yet another sign that nerds are doing other things. Who would write a novel when you could fucking write BSG, amirite?

    Same thing with the growth of cable networks and internet tv-sites. All of these outlets are draining the nerd-author pool…so the scifi books we would have seen in abundance are now BSG episodes or 4400 episodes or Cartoon Network shorts or what have you. That sci-fi post you made has got my brain all a twitter Steve. Very nice.

    As for pursuing nerdly things…I want to play a RPG with you fuckers. Let’s make plans. I’ll run the game and even come to Boston. :)


  15. Ananth

    Fair enough. The nerdly shall inherit the earth or something like that.

    I didn’t really bring it up as a trade of views on the administration, it was more like I wanted to know if you were being hyperbolic or not.

  16. Ananth

    You want Nerdiness by the way, check this out….

    In case it doesn’t work try this. This will look sweet fighting my Optimus.

  17. Ananth

    Of course he is. First of all he is a like a Nazi gun, so he is twice as scary. Secondly its such a completely unsafe toy to have now a days, a realistic looking gun. Funny thing, my nerdy friend collects transformers, and was all worried about how he was going go get it, because customs will confiscate realistic looking gun toys. and this won’t be sold in the US, but apparently those crafty japenese are just going to package it in robot mode. Problem solved…

    Also, google Masterpiece Starscream. I dares you.

  18. pedro

    The first thing I said when I saw Megatron was “holy crap! how are they going to sell that one here in the US???”

    It is the hotness though. Transformers brings a tear to my eye.

  19. Eric

    What the hell is that thing in Megatron’s hand. Normally I’d think it was some Beast Wars or 3rd Gen thing I’m not up on, but that’s old school Megatron. WTF? as the kids would say.

    Steve, you mentioned in a previous post you’d been watching Battlestar. Do you still have those? I’m going to need something to do over break once I beat Zelda.

  20. High-C

    Hipster, Please blog is about nerd culture. Go figure. It’s a great read, btw.

    The nerd rap world wouldn’t be believed. It’s quite a kinetic and frenzied environment. Sort of a constant Darwinian evolution of nerd rappers.


    Nerdapalooza, Orlando, FL – July 4th and 5th, 2008…

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