Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton, ISBN 059600768X

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, January 2005, send e-mail
Published by: O'Reilly, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$24.95, CAN$36.95, UK£15.95

If the fatuous young overlords at G4 Tech TV (now called "G4") had a lick of common sense is their collective head, they would never have fired Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton. But even if they were forced by some heretofore unknown stupid-virus to make the bad decision to get rid of the aforementioned (superbly informative, personable and dynamic) hosts, choices for top quality replacements abounded. My choice for top dog would have been none other than Wil Wheaton, newly minted author of Just A Geek, former child star of the superb growing-up movie "Stand By Me", teenage star of TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (in the role of Wesley Crusher), all-round techno smart guy, former short-lived G4 host, Windows and (sometime) Linux techie, wry and brilliantly witty sense of humor and all. You bet your sweet fanny folks. Young Ensign Crusher hasn't been a brainy fop for years. No sirree. Mr. Wheaton is a genuinely interesting fellow. He's a geek too, apparently. I'm a fan. I'm reviewing this book. The groundwork is laid.

In July 2001, Wil Wheaton launched one of the first widely read WebLogs (Blogs). Why did he do this? Simply put, he was all at sea. On the beach. Up the creek without a paddle. Casting about for acting work. Going for parts (auditions of all kinds in productions of all kinds), writing, diving into computer technology and generally doing what people who are working only occasionally and at a transitional point in their lives and careers usually do. The problem is, Wil wasn't clicking anywhere. It wasn't that the doors were slamming in his face—far from it. He was just reaching a point in his life at which the influence he felt he should have on those around him was lagging far behind his skills, talents and great personality. It's a scary position in which to exist and family aside, Mr. Wheaton found few other viable and public releases for his ideas, emotions and boundless energy except for the Blog and his well-founded personal and family relationships.

The rest, as is often said, is (personal) history. The story of Wil's epiphanies, trials, tribulations, revelations, successes, failures and historical perspective are the subjects of this book. The fact that the writing is completely positive and energetic—a delightful read and a great ride—is only slightly less amazing than it is a demonstration of will. Make no mistake about it either, because Wil is not particularly impressed with himself now and never really wanted to be. Despite the career setbacks and frustrations and (occasional) difficulty paying the bills, his perspective on life and his role in the world around him seems grounded and ingenuously modest. The fact that he has come out of the fabulously famous Star Trek:TNG franchise with his humility intact and ego in check may be a greater achievement than any of his successful ambitions.

Essentially, Wheaton has taken some time to describe the substance of his transition from intelligent, somewhat confident and talented teen actor into an intelligent, confident and even more talented adult who is absorbed by family responsibilities, acting and technology. Of course, I wanted Wil to take all this in stride and literally flip off the bad experiences as they came, embrace the good stuff and rise effortlessly above all the rest. But since he's also a down-to-earth man, subject to some of the foibles, second-guessing and insecurities from which we all suffer from time to time, I endured the portions of the book in which Wil portrayed himself as something less than I wanted him to be. I've listened to friends, Star Trek:TNG fans all, critique Wheaton's TV work and disliked them for doing so. I'm no starry-eyed idiot, merely someone who appreciates the hard work this fine actor and young renaissance man has done.

The book is a cleverly juxtaposed combination of some of the best and most appropriate of Wil's blog entries interleaved in a lot of interesting, well-paced and chronologically sensible narratives of his gradual and (with the benefit of hindsight) predictable successes. But it's the just as clearly delineated mistakes and misses that entertain too. As I reached the mid-point of the book I began thinking to myself that I really wanted this guy to start winning the battles he deserved to win. Being articulate, experienced, honest, capable, and talented doesn't guarantee success especially when the cards just don't come your way. So my expectations of a deliriously happy or supremely cathartic ending weren't fulfilled. Am I sad though? Not on your life! The end of the book isn't an ending of any kind. It's an affirmation and a continuation and you'll have to read the thing to find out why I like it so much. In point of fact by the way, the end of the main book isn't the end of the story because there are two Appendix sections which are almost as big a blast.

Cons: Some of the book's most interesting sections (chapter nine: "Alone Again, or...") contain passages that are a wee bit too introspective even considering the self-effacing and honest nature of Wheaton's writing style.

Pros: Some of the best of Wil Wheaton's generally excellent blog is showcased including (in Appendix 'B') some of the best excerpts from his online interviews. Wil's story is a broad snapshot of a life that has been terrifically interesting to this point in time. His journey to self-realization as he describes it is both very entertaining and sometimes embarrassingly honest. Wheaton is destined for some really interesting and prosperous times ahead not because he is deserving merely due to his famous and accomplished past, but rather because he continues to do the work that needs to be done personally and professionally to make your own luck. Writing, technology, Star Trek 'cons, TV? You bet. I want this guy to win. Very good read. Highly recommended.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com





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