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Geek Confidential
Rick Klaw
MonkeyBrain Books, 255 pages

Geek Confidential
Rick Klaw
Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site: Geeks With Books Columns
SF Site Interview: Rick Klaw

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

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A couple of years ago, Rodger Turner forwarded me an e-mail with a writing sample from Rick Klaw. Rodger will do this sort of thing, from time to time, whenever we're looking to top up the ranks of the SF Site contributors. Usually Rodger will say to me, "have a look and let me know if you think this is any good and whether we should take this person on." In this case, however, he said something like, "there's this guy in Texas who's a bookseller and he's going to write a regular column for us about selling books. He wants to call it something about geeks and their books. I told him we'll run his column." What could I say? OK, so now we're stuck with a column about selling books in Texas written by some geek. Great. What were you thinking, Rodger?

Well, I have so say that column quickly became one of my favourite regular features here at SF Site. Nevertheless, I have long suspected that Rick Klaw may be an unscrupulous pretender. His column is called "Geeks with Books" and his new book is titled Geek Confidential. I've never met Rick, but I have serious doubts that he is a bona fide geek. Every conventional definition of the word "geek" carries with it strong connotations of social unacceptability, due largely to behavioural factors, often involving obsessive interest in a narrow field. In my mind, a geek is someone who shows up to his cousin's wedding wearing a Star Trek uniform.

Here's the evidence against Rick Klaw: 1) he's married; 2) he has friends, at least some of whom are actually cool (hey, Michael Moorcock was in a rock band -- does it get any cooler than that?); 3) he has a multitude of interests, including but not limited to books, films, comics (aka "funny books"), SF, baseball, Texas history, and gorillas; and 4) when he writes about something you have no knowledge of, you can easily understand what the hell he's on about. It's true that with regard to points 1 and 2 above, I only have it on Rick's authority that he is indeed married and that the people he calls friends regard him in the same light. However, points 3 and 4 are indisputable. And therefore, I believe I have exposed Rick Klaw: he is not a true geek!

So apart from the misrepresentative title, the book is a handsome package. It's a slick cover design, front and back, the title and author name are even prominently displayed on the spine (that's an inside joke, which you'll get if you read the book). Notice of the introduction by legendary author Michael Moorcock is also readily apparent, as is a positive comment from award-winning author Joe R. Lansdale. Best of all, if you're a gorilla fan like Rick -- and oddly enough, I understand there are at least a few others out there who share this strange obsession -- the cover art boasts a gun-toting gorilla in fedora and trench coat that is rather evocative of classic mid-20th-century pulp. (I don't get it either, but it does look kinda neat.) Rick will tell you in Geek Confidential why all of these things are important. You may never have thought much about it before, but there are reasons why you pick up one book and not another, and most of those reasons have to do with the cover. It all makes sense to me now -- except the bit about the gorillas; I still don't quite understand the appeal. But I'm willing to let that one slide.

Once the cleverness of the cover has lured you into reading what's inside, you'll quickly realize that Rick Klaw has some interesting things to say and has a comfortable, easy way of saying them. He's very readable, in a conversational way. Unfortunately, Rick's friendly thoughts and musings share the pages with an inordinate number of small errors. The books is so full of typos, misspellings, inconsistencies and other trivial copyediting errors that it becomes at times distracting. So, to MonkeyBrain Books, kudos on a nice-looking outside, but shame on you for not paying more attention to the details that would make a nice-reading inside.

Typos aside, my only other complaint is with regard to the overall continuity. This book makes no pretensions to be anything other than what it is: a collection of essays, reviews and interviews from a well-informed but pretty down-to-earth guy who has a penchant for expressing himself in a public forum whenever he can. However, the book attempts to bring these writings together in some kind of thematic groupings. Sometimes this more or less works, such as for example the section called "World Turned Upside Down" where Rick gets political, or the section called "No Ordinary Buckaroo" in which are collected the Moorcock-related essays and an interview with the man himself. But in the section called "Bookselling 101" the editorial attempt to impose some kind of logic on the series of essays plays havoc with the chronology of them without really lending them any more coherence than already had. While I applaud the intention of grouping Rick's thoughts thematically, I still think there could have been more effort to do some creative editing to give the overall book a little more creative continuity. As a result, we could have had a book that grew and developed to some logical place, or to an overall conclusion, or, well, somewhere. Instead, what we have is simply a record of Rick's writings, largely from the internet (SF Site and elsewhere). Which is all good, except that in this case I might have preferred to see them in chronological order so that I could follow Rick's thought patterns for myself.

Quibbles, perhaps. And I've dwelt on them too long. In any case, I am very happy to have on immortal paper the words and opinions of my current favourite SF Site columnist. The best thing about Rick is that he knows what he's talking about (most of the time, anyway). I've learned an awful lot about many facets of the book industry from reading Rick's columns over the past couple of years. He's well read, but isn't ashamed to admit where he hasn't gone. He's been around and walked the walk, but he doesn't lord it over his readers. When he drops a name, you don't feel like he's name-dropping; you feel like he's telling you about some of the people he happens to know, just as natural as can be. Which brings us to the second best thing about Rick. The second best thing about Rick is he makes you feel like he's just one of the guys. I've already mentioned his friendly, conversational style. He also knows how to express his thoughts clearly and interestingly. Reading his book, you'll feel like you're having a series of pleasant and often fascinating chats with a knowledgeable friend.

The final piece in Geek Confidential is called "Dopey Guy Manifesto." Rick defines at some length what he means by "dopey guy" and, although I'm not sure that term is very apt either, I think this is perhaps what he means by his own personal definition of "geek." But really, Rick's not a geek. Rick's not a dopey guy. Rick is a product of late-20th-century western pop culture, just like most of the rest of us. Only Rick happens to be more fluent and certainly more studied in pop culture than most of the rest of us. And he just happens to be particularly good at expressing his thoughts in a way that reflects the thoughts of his many co-inhabitants of this modern pop-culture world we live in.

I suppose it would have been presumptuous for him to call his book Pop-Culture-Guru Confidential and the last thing Rick Klaw would ever be is presumptuous. But I'm tellin' ya, if he's a geek, then I'm a gorilla's uncle.

Copyright © 2003 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh has several great passions in his life: reading, and...uh, some other things that are, no doubt, equally interesting.


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