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.

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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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