Monday, July 11, 2011

Book-Nerds vs. Science-Geeks

This is one that's been on my mind for a while. While labeling individuals is rarely productive, I often ponder certain categories or types (recognizing the variability within any given category). So first, let's define our terms.

A book-nerd is pretty straightforward—someone who loves books. They devour books, possibly spending more on them than they do on food. Generally, book-nerds are somewhat eclectic in their tastes, sampling everything from literary fiction to romance to horror to non-fiction. They worship the written word.

A science-geek (and for the sake of this post, I'm going to include math-geeks, even though they don't always coincide) is analytical, loves technology, and wants to know how everything around them works. They are often (but not always) big readers as well, possibly to the same extend as many book-nerds.

In fact, there is some overlap between the two groups. I know some science-geeks who are definitely book-nerds. What I want to talk about is another subset of the geeks—those who do read, but don't qualify as book-nerds.

These are people who read voraciously, but probably don't have much interest in Shakespeare, Dickens, or anything else considered classic. Probably not much in the field of literary fiction, either. Doesn't mean they don't appreciate literary qualities, but more often than not, they'll be reading (you guessed it) science fiction and fantasy.

What's important to these readers? For one thing, consistency in all aspects. Heaven help you if you commit a continuity error. For another, worlds and characters worth coming back to—thus the ubiquitous serial nature of the genres. They also want what every other reader wants—a good story with proper development.

It seems like the YA publishing industry is dominated by book-nerds. That's okay, and probably as it should be. After all, they need to make their living on books, so it's best if they love them, preferably in wide variety. But sometimes I wonder if even agents who rep the speculative fiction genres are part of the book-nerd/science-geek overlap and don't necessarily get the straight-up science-geek readers.

It's kind of like the film industry. Traditionally, a sci-fi or fantasy movie will only get respect for effects, makeup, costumes, and maybe music. Some people assume that the fans don't care about good screenwriting or acting as long as there are enough explosions. So the budget goes toward effects and explosions. Character development is glossed over. The end result might make money, but gets little respect.

There is a place for science-geeks in the world of literature, though. And I'm always excited when I find an excellent book that speaks to that part of me (rather than the book-nerd part ... I'm an overlapper in some respects). I'm always on the lookout for more. Books that use sci-fi or fantasy elements as more than window dressing, but still have a great story at the core.

Got any recommendations?


Anonymous said...

Ach, I'm just a geeky nerd and can offer no help on that front.

However, you have a point in that even amongst certain genres, readers require different elements to satisfy them.

I hope you find what you're looking for!


Leah Petersen said...

This touches on something I think of often. The sci-fi/fantasy reader often gets little respect from the book-nerds or even just the general casual/social reader.

But the sff readers are just as discriminating as the book-nerds. They have high standards as well, it's just not necessarily about the same things.

I don't know any sff reader who doesn't care about literary excellence in the books they read. So, if anything, the sff readers expect MORE of authors. Not just strong, intelligent writing, but flawless worldbuilding and execution of the fantastic or speculative elements.

Read any set of Amazon reviews for a sff book and see.

R.C. Lewis said...

Thanks, Cat, I hope so, too!

Leah, absolutely agree. SF/F readers can be merciless. Get it right, or get eviscerated.

cherie said...

That's why I don't write high fantasy and pure Sci-fi. You have to get the rules right, or don't write it at all. I'm not a science geek, despite my background in Bio Sciences, and while I appreciate a well-written SF/F, I don't read it often enough to attempt to write one of my own. (Sorry, no recommends from me.)

Good post, though. I've never really thought about the difference between book nerds and science geeks.

Johanna said...

Have you read The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley? I've probably asked you before. She loves female MCs "that do stuff" as opposed to waiting around for the guys to rescue them. And I definitely count myself as the non-book-nerd SF geek.