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Luke Skywalker Can't Read: And Other Geeky Truths Paperback – November 24, 2015
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“Ryan Britt is one of nerd culture's most brilliant and most essential commentators...the Virgil you want to guide you through the inferno of geekery.” —Lev Grossman, author of the bestselling The Magicians Trilogy
"Ryan Britt is an uncontrolled experiment—a genre omnivore who has spent his time on this earth flying to other galaxies, undersea cities, freaky amusement parks, Middle Earth, Transylvania, Sherlock Holmes’ London, and the Cretaceous. His essays are reliably smart, surprising, provocative, and funny.” —Karen Russell, Pulitzer-Prize-nominated author of Swamplandia!
"One of the most witty, fun, warm, and insightful essay collections out there. If Luke Skywalker had a favorite book, it would be this one." —Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another and author of Screw Everyone
"Luke Skywalker Can't Read is personally revealing, effortlessly funny, carefully researched, and optimistic about the place of sci-fi/fantasy in the greater world of popular entertainment." —Cecil Baldwin, narrator of Welcome to Night Vale
“Whether he’s exploring paradoxes in Back to the Future, the fundamental illiteracy of the average Stormtrooper, or being tied up and held over a rooftop by a couple of dominatrices, Ryan Britt is an amiable, perceptive, and highly entertaining observer of the sci-fi scene. I gulped down these essays like Dracula downing a pint of blood.” —Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
“Ryan Britt’s debut collection is a wisecracking, intimate and intelligent voyage through universes both real and imagined. But to a certain kind of reader –- the kind whose teenage weekends were spent at sci-fi conventions and comic book stores— it is also something much more. Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is a glorious geek manifesto, illuminating the essential and often misunderstood essence of geekdom: not the pursuit of esoterica-obsessed loners but a vital and complex community, a far-away galaxy where fellow misfits meet to swap the ray guns, talismanic rings, and radioactive potions for their daily battles back on Planet Earth." —Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting and A Storm at the Door
"Sci-fi and fantasy fans, meet your new best friend. Ryan Britt has an encyclopedic knowledge of geek culture, from Aurebesh to Zardoz, and this collection of essays feels like you're hanging out with him at the world's nerdiest bar. Luke Skywalker Can't Read is smart, insightful, and totally fun." —David M. Ewalt, author of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons
About the Author
Ryan Britt has written for The New York Times, Electric Literature, The Awl, VICE Motherboard, Clarkesworld Magazine, and is a consulting editor for Story Magazine. He was the staff writer for the Hugo-Award winning web magazine Tor.com, where he remains a contributor. He lives in New York City.
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Britt starts out with introducing himself and covering the basics about geekdom and what’s cool and why and discussing science fiction as a whole. Later on there’s another discussion about the difference in things that are science fiction and the things that are science written fictionally.
"Moby-Dick takes place in an alternate universe in which whale attacks were a common enough thing to get upset about. In this way, every kind of fiction is science fiction, which means that everybody who likes reading anything that’s not nonfiction is a massive geek. Obviously, like a lot of geeks, my hyperbole is worse that my bite.”
In the title essay, Britt argues that some of our favorite characters for readers aren’t readers themselves, which is an interesting bit of irony. Luke Skywalker (and probably most of the other characters in Star Wars) don’t read for fun or do any writing. They don’t have to because it’s a different culture. Information is hard to come by because the Empire restricts the news that’s released. The only people who do a lot of reading are scholars and there aren’t a lot of them left after the Empire took over.
“Not once in any of the existing Star Wars movies does a person, droid, or creature pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook of Wookie poetry. […] I say Luke and his buddies are functionally illiterate because this tiny amount of reading ends up being the difference between someone being fluent in a foreign language and having learned just enough to ask for directions.”
Similarly, Lev Grossman had once said, “No one reads any books in Narnia,” which is probably true to a certain extent as well. All of the information in Narnia comes by word of mouth. “Aslan is on the move.” No newspapers here.
And the thing that I really love about the essays is that while they may have one main topic or fandom in mind, no one essay is about just one fandom. It’s an over-encompassing look at the geeky things that everyone loves in a new light and it was a really fun read. It would probably make a great gift for the geek in your life.
**Special thanks to Penguin Random House through FirstToRead.com for a electronic advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.**
The best thing I can say about "Luke Skywalker Can't Read" is that it feels like your very best geeky conversations with your best geeky friend. A friend you don't always get along with, a friend that you're sure is an idiot half the time and a genius the other half, but a friend who you love to stay up late talking about the minutiae of geeky fandoms with. If you're reading this, you probably know what that experience is like. Some of us have those conversations daily, but others...you look forward to them every time you can have them. And this book collects several of them.
The titular essay is one of my favorites. It's not about Luke Skywalker per se, but about the whole Star Wars universe that we visit as observers through the movies, cartoons, and books...but mostly the movies. His argument is essentially that where characters in other franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek) make reference to real and imagined literature within their respective universes, Star Wars does not. Hermione will consult books in the library, a trusted source of knowledge that helps Hogwarts students overcome evil. Gandalf and company consult books, and Bilbo even writes "The Hobbit" as a book in itself. Captains Kirk and Picard quote Shakespeare, Dickens, and Melville. In the Star Wars movies on the other hand...books are almost entirely absent. Characters have an oral tradition handed down from generation to generation, but there don't seem to be written records. Britt poses this as one of the reasons that the entire galaxy who has seen thousands of Jedi Knights in action right up through "Revenge of the Sith" can forget about them to the point that Jedi are myths and legends within nineteen years (by the beginning of "A New Hope"). We see this happen again in the period between "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens" -- Han Solo has to convince Rey and Finn that "it's real, all of it." Britt spends about twenty pages on this idea, and does it in a better way than I've summarized here...but it becomes a solid, interesting argument. It takes the text of those movies, which at this point is imprinted on my DNA, and makes me look at it completely differently. I value those kinds of geeky experiences.
Another excellent essay is "Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes: Rise of the Relevant Superheroes," and how we all just need to chill out with our freakouts over superhero remakes and reboots. About the idea of these characters as a shared text that grows and changes over time to include more than what they were first imagined. At this point we've had our oldest superheroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America) for 75 years and more...and each generation is getting to put their mark on the characters. If that means my Superman isn't the same as your Superman, it's okay. It's the nature of a transgenerational text to do that. Britt's comparison to Shakespeare is apt, although truthfully, people do get pissed about Hamlet remakes. The Mel Gibson one was the best, you guys.
There are essays on "Barbarella," on Sherlock Holmes, and "Back to the Future," and in each case, Britt sheds new light on the characters, movies, or books he's discussing. And these are topics that I overthink about and process and want to talk to other geek friends about...reading these essays relieves some of that pressure. Besides the topics themselves, the way Britt writes is very engaging. He puts his personal experiences in, framing the geeky episodes at a particular time in his life, and connecting them to friends, and family members. We get a more full picture of why he thinks the way he does about Doctor Who because of what he was going through at the time; we appreciate the barrage of F-bombs in a certain chapter because that's how we expressed ourselves at that stage of life too. Enjoying Britt's voice becomes a big part of enjoying the book, and by the end of the essays, I felt like I knew him, liked him, and wanted to read more.
If you're a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Dracula...okay, just about anything geeky, chances are good you'll find an essay at least touching on it in "Luke Skywalker Can't Read: And Other Geeky Truths." I liked it more than I expected to--and I expected to like it. I didn't expect it to make me think. Read it so we can talk about it. It's good.
The premise was interesting to me - essays to further explore the geeky world of scifi. I realized this book is less essays and more anecdotes or observations or ideas. The author is clearly passionate about some of the arguments in this book, but some of the entries read more like rants to me that didn't have a specific purpose or argument so much as a spew of a lot of facts about a movie or character. I also thought it was really weird to include a side tangent about being duct taped by a dominatrix in relation to a scifi point. It felt at times the author just wanted to prove that he knew or experienced certain things to give the ideas presented in the book more legitimacy.
There were some thoughts about the Hobbit I hadn't heard before, but overall I wish this book would have delved deeper and examined some of these ideas more instead of presenting them and moving on to the next thing.
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