The urge to nerd

The comments on my reaction to Anathem highlight my anomalous location in the science-fiction universe.  Both responses (thanks Jim Cambias and oldhousegeek!), indicate that, while they understand my position, they are sucked into Stephenson's intellectual machinery anyway.  Why was I able to resist the seductions of nerd world?

In large part, science fiction is about thought and rationality.  Victory goes, not to the most passionate, committed, or lucky, but to the smartest and most process perceiving.  A science fiction character develops by Learning How.

I always wanted to learn how. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a nerd.  This was odd then—the cultural niche didn’t have the validity it does now.

Only one problem.  Aside from not really thinking like a nerd, I’m not actually smart enough to be one, either.  And I tried, believe me.  I tried through a Masters in Engineering from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.  I tried through a number of professional engineering positions.  I tried until I just couldn’t try any more.

That’s just crazy, a colossal waste of time.  I try to be proud of it, but it made no sense, then or now.  I should have studied Byzantine history, like Harry Turtledove, or economics.  Or gardening.

I’ve wandered off the point here.  Neil Stephenson!  Smart enough to be a nerd, even too smart to be one.  Maybe I’m just jealous.  You’d think I could think vicariously through his writing, like learning to dance from those foot diagrams that now survive only in cartoons.

But I can’t.  I don’t think that way.  That’s a problem—I write science fiction.  What do you call a science fiction writer who can’t think like a nerd, or even truly appreciate someone else who writes like a nerd?


But there might be a solution.  Over the next few months maybe we can find it.  After all, my book comes out in January.  We have to figure it out before then.