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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.


Geekomancy - Michael R. Underwood "Geekomancy" is aiming for the same sort of audience as "Ready Player One" - readers who have soaked deep in SFF culture and to whom half the fun of reading will be in spotting references - to D&D, to comics, to movies. [Presumably to books and computer games as well, but these were far less common.] Part of what made "Ready Player One" work was the straightforward joy in the genre the book conveyed. Even though the main character had soaked himself in 80s/90s culture in order to win a prize, he'd done so with complete dedication, and somehow even the outright infodump passages caught the reader up in the obsessive detail.Geekomancy takes a slightly different route – rather than lovingly describing nostalgic minutiae, it peppers the reader with a constant barrage of references – unrelenting shotgun pellets of 'cool'.Ree is a geek girl working in a geek-themed café. In typical Urban Fantasy style, she has an encounter with something out of the ordinary and is drawn into a complex world of magic most people aren't aware of. In this particular universe, however, the 'hidden world' is shaped by the power of current stories – so the creatures Ree encounters reflect popular narrative of the moment – whether they're vampires or daemons, they're generally not very old-fashioned.On top of this, the mages of this world practice magic based again on current narrative. They can use the memorabilia, costumes, or movies, to briefly invest themselves with the powers out of stories – by watching a Superman movie, for instance, they might become invulnerable. A toy weapon can be invested with the functions of the real thing. It's a fun idea, and Underwood comes up with some original uses, while filling Ree's story with a trillion references to everything SFF under the sun.It did not work for me at all. I bounced off it, not drawn along by the prose but irritated by it. Particularly at the beginning, with a character running around waving Doctor Who's psychic paper, and a working lightsaber, I felt entirely emotionally distanced by it – it produced no particular affection for the culture, and killed the sensawunda over and over. There were occasional references to how these events make Ree feel, but on the whole the book seemed more interested in taking every possible opportunity to make a pop culture reference rather than tell an engaging story. Fortunately it did pick up toward the end, where Ree has more emotional investment in events, but never enough to draw me in fully.Ree seems to be a generalist geek – knows lots of geekish stuff, but not majorly invested in a particular sub-culture. She for the most part is sensible, thinks on her feet, has a strong moral compass, and is someone you want to see succeed. Though she lost a lot of cred with me thanks to a major moment of Fail when (after surviving an attack and going out for a 'safety in numbers' excursion) she decides to get drunk and ignore the phone calls of her mentor. As we got to know her, my eyebrows did get raised more than a few times as geek-girl-who-works-in-coffee-shop-discovering-powers became geek-girl-who-works-in-coffee-shop-with-two-black-belts-in-martial-arts-plus-can-pick-locks-discovering-powers.On the positive side, nice to see a female lead with solid female friendships going on.On the negative side, there was a lot of 'that bitch' going on. Both a minor female villain, and then a character's ex-girlfriend are repeatedly referred to as 'that bitch' or 'bitchy'. That got old fast.Ree also didn't seem to be very engaged with the people of her genre. She has a narrative of "I'm female, and I'm a geek, not overly pretty but not ugly, and thus rare in the geek world and so I get hit on by pathetic unsocialised nerds All The Time. Until they see my hotter not-so-geeky girlfriends, at which point they hit on them instead." There's this odd thread of disdain for nerdish geeks, and (despite the girlfriend who likes steampunk clothing) a strong imbalance in numbers of female geeks v male geeks in the story. Seriously, girls who like SFF are not that rare! [Actually, Ree kind of comes across as a hipster geek.]Also, for a girl who is legally blind without her glasses, and who engages in whole heaps of combat, and running away, and falling, and unconsciousness and so forth – she never seems to have much issue with seeing things.In the mildly spoilerish realm of things, the love interest was painful, particularly his elaborate speech pattern, and I was wondering if he'd turn out to be an over-the-top cosplayer rather than a genuine time-displaced person. And the collectibles-Constantine should in no way, shape or form have been forgiven. He'd gone way beyond the pale.