I don’t recall when, exactly, I became aware that Wil Wheaton had an active blog presence. It would have been a few years ago, probably mentioned in passing in comments or a link-in somewhere else, pointing to a post he’d done. Likely it was on a nerdy subject of some sort, since I often consume nerdy blogs, and odds are good that’s where the paths crossed initially.
Crossed paths sometimes have a way of converging, and over time I grew more aware of posts he’d made — again, by others’ references. I know I downloaded chapter 9 of his Just a Geek as a PDF, because the file is still resident on my Mac, dated from 2004. Nevertheless, it was only a few months ago that I subbed to his RSS feed and started actively reading his posts and content.
In that time I found that I’d been missing something good. Wheaton, as many of us in the nerdverse are sometimes painfully aware, had a role in his teens as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Alas, that role tainted the minds of many over the years, people who for some reason couldn’t seem to quite separate the living, breathing and vital personality from the created character he filled two decades ago.1
I hadn’t been overlooking his blog for that reason; mostly, it was because I’d put ST:TNG behind me quite some time ago, and didn’t feel it was all that relevant to my life any longer. I wasn’t bearing animosity against Crusher (or Wheaton); rather, I was just no longer following the series, nor a devoted Trekker to begin with. At least not with the rabid ferocity evinced by the protesters that fought long and hard to keep Enterprise in production — truly a spikeworthy show, if ever there was a meaningful representation of the species.
So my mistake lay, I suppose, along similar modes of thinking that led him to be savaged verbally for years at Trek cons. I associated him well enough with a long-out-of-production show that I didn’t feel connected to anything he might be doing today.
I was wrong.
While his blog truly is a blog, chatty and discursive in many places,2 it’s also a repository of some elegant storytelling that is quite well written in its honesty and gentleness. One of the things I like most about it is that Wheaton regularly writes about things that interest me personally as well, and periodically throws in references that are so specific to a certain nerd subculture I find myself smiling in welcome recognition. While there’s a kind of sweetness and nostalgia to some of the things he writes — particularly when it’s relating to his family — it’s not the same flavor as what I encounter reading prose by someone a decade and more older than myself. Wheaton and I are about six years apart in age, which means that when he’s talking about driving along and listening to Joy Division or he makes a reference to Rocky Horror, I’m right there too. This is part of my culture and history as well.
Plus, he tosses these references in with an offhand ease that makes it all seem quite conversational, and from time to time wry. That’s naturalistic prose and very easy to read and follow, or so I find it anyway.
When I became more active on Twitter last month, he was one of the few I originally set out to find and follow on that service. I’m glad I did, because I was able to get a slightly advance pointer to a collection called Sunken Treasure, published in February of 2009. The backstory can be found at his post on the subject, but the short version is that I bought it the day it was released, took some time reading it,3 and am now ready to offer a review of it here.
The book is short, less than 90 pages, but it’s not intended to be much more than what the subtitle suggests, a sampler of his work. To the best of my knowledge, in fact, everything in the book is available online, either in his blog or at sites he’s written for. This does not diminish the value of the text — it saves time. Rather than having to cull the excerpts myself, he’s done the work for me.
And it truly is a sampler. There are stories of his family life, stories of his personal history, ruminations on the art and effort of acting, some short and striking pieces of fiction, and a description of a recent guest role he filled on a current TV series.
This makes it hard to actually review the text, though, since so much of it is so good, but there are several parts that resonated rather strongly with me, parts I enjoyed personally much more than others.
So it is that I can point to three chapters, or samples, that really stood out to me as exceptional. The first, Datalore, is his review of the ST:TNG episode of that same name, originally posted for TV Squad. The synopsis begins thus:
After dropping off a bunch of Human Horn for Lurr in the Omicron Persei system, the Enterprise cruises into the nearby Omicron Theta system, to pay a visit to Data’s home planet.
Human horn (and most of what follows) is a reference oblique enough to leave virtually everyone scratching their heads — except for inveterate fans of Futurama, Matt Groening’s ill-fated post–Simpsons foray into extreme geekdom, a series still lionized and beloved by many.4
What’s striking about this review — and actually all the others he’s done for TV Squad so far — is how honest they are, and how damned funny. He’s not defensive of the series, and he’s not defensive of his character Wesley Crusher; he’s very clearly not simply moved beyond that role, but has actually come to terms with it, and appears to be at ease now discussing the ramifications of the part and what it meant to Trekkers in the late 1980s.
He analyzes the episode from a personal perspective — of course — but also points incisively to the quality of the episode itself, noting its glaring plot holes and highlighting the naiveté of the scriptwriting in a way that echoed my own irritation with the story when I first saw it air in ST:TNG’s first season.
The second sample that I enjoyed more than most was Ficlets, wherein he reproduces in toto two short fiction pieces he wrote for an experimental collaborative fiction enclave devised by SF writer John Scalzi.
They’re both good; the first one is a bright and chilling little piece of short-short fiction that stands beautifully well on its own; but the second one really took me; it’s both a reference to a Bowie song circa 1970s, and has a feel that is so eerily resonant of Bradbury in Martian Chronicles that it almost made me shiver.
Alas, with the Ficlets website permanently hors de combat, I can only reproduce this excerpt without so much retyping that I’d essentially just be transcribing the whole piece:
“I want to move to Mars, and open up a bar,” Gregor said.
Matti inhaled deeply, and let a cloud of pale blue smoke surround his head.
“What would you call it?” Matti said.
“Moonage Daydream.” Gregor said.
The ficlet ends, “The ground shook, and they watched the rocket climb into the sky.”
The third piece that struck me was the final — and longest — one, Criminal Minds Production Diary, wherein he describes his recent experiences acting as a guest star on the CBS series Criminal Minds. He played the role of a serial rapist and murderer, and while the diary is interesting just from the perspective of getting an inside look at production on a set, I found myself struck by two things. One, he opens his process a little to the world, talking about how he got into the role and the mind of his character; and two, his favorite Doctor was also Tom Baker.
I think this item, coupled with what he produced for Ficlets, shows a tremendous amount of promise for him as a writer not only of memoirs but of extended fiction. I know from my own experiences in both editing and writing that in order to produce a meaningful narrative with characters that have real depth, you’ve got to get into everyone’s heads — not just your heroes, but your villains as well. That’s challenging, so much so that it’s very hard (and often quite uncomfortable) to really follow through. And it’s my hope that he’ll be willing to take that on in future efforts, and crank out a novel-length piece which employs all the elements I saw in Sunken Treasure and enjoyed so much: Offhand, deadpan wit, accessible emotive storytelling, and the ability to produce Bad Guys that are more than caricatures of evil.
From a purely technical standpoint, the book was produced in a DTP program that probably wasn’t InDesign or Quark, and in some ways it shows. The choice of typeface left italics running into close-quotes sometimes, a fault more or less easily fixed with a few settings in the prepress software; and while I can’t fault his choice of ragged rights — I do the same myself, preferring them to full justification — there was one page where one line of text fell into the gutter. The point size was also a bit larger than I would probably have chosen.
But these are aesthetic quibbles and really have more to do with the mechanics of book production in an increasingly self-taught POD world. They don’t meaningfully detract from the quality of the content of the book, and certainly don’t prevent my recommending it wholeheartedly to anyone wanting to see what Wil Wheaton’s been up to for the last twenty or so years. Whether you’ve been a reader of his far longer than I have, or are just considering making a purchase now, Sunken Treasure is a good introduction to his style and personality. It’s available from Lulu as hardcopy or as a PDF.
1. This failure to disconnect seems to have been a source of frustration — and sometimes intense personal pain — for Wheaton, enough that when Forbes magazine recently commented on his being “a former actor”, it clearly stung him (at least, judging by his tweets at the time). I think I can understand that; being so casually pigeonholed is never a pleasant experience, particularly when it’s done dismissively and with no recognition of the fact that Wheaton is still very much engaged in acting, having guested on several TV series and done voice work for animated shows. Five seconds’ reading on IMDB effectively guts the “former actor” claim, and does not speak well of the caliber of writing available on Forbes today.
2. Sound familiar?
3. Actually, in some ways, I think I was savoring it a bit.
4. Well, a few. Well. okay, me and like six other people. But we really really mean it when we say we love the show, okay?
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