Interview with Ryan Britt, Author of ‘Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths’

Interview with Ryan Britt, Author of ‘Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths’

Yesterday, I published my review of the book Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths. I also had the pleasure of being able to interview the author, Ryan Britt. Enjoy!


What prompted you to compile this collection of essays?

I’ve been writing essays and articles about science fiction for years, but primarily on the Internet. There’s only so much you can do online in terms of length, tone and style. Plus, I wanted to preserve some of my notions in a book to make a more permanent artifact. Even though some of the essays (like the title essay) are based on things I wrote online, everything is basically completely re-written. Plus, some essays would only work in a book! Books demand more patient readers than online blog posts or essays, so the writing can be more patient, too. For a book, the essays are on the short side, but I think if these were published online in this form, many of them would fall into that “too long, didn’t read” category. In a book, that’s no longer a problem! You can totally read this book! It’s only 200 pages! But 200 pages online? No one would put up with that.

Also, I really wanted to write something where people couldn’t comment on it right away, like they can when I write an article online. With a book, the trolls still come, but it takes longer. I’m emotionally prepared!

It’s probably safe to say the prequels aren’t your favorite Star Wars films. Taking that into account, what are your hopes for The Force Awakens? Fears?

In “The Fans Awaken,” I tried to actually grapple with the idea that I was once more of a hater, but that I had to “let go of my hate.” I was talking with a good friend about this the other day: hating the prequels is so passé! I make some digs at them, yes. I call them bad. But I think my larger goal is to talk about why we disliked the prequels, rather than nitpick and “prove” that they are bad. I think we need to get over that. This same friend of mine has a 7-year-old daughter and her favorite Star Wars movie is The Phantom Menace. This kid isn’t some kid who likes everything, she has discerning taste. And for her, Amidala’s costumes are amazing and she loves that a Queen seems to be in charge of the plot. So, I guess I think it’s a good time to go easy on the prequels.

My hopes for The Force Awakens are the same as yours! I hope I’m not disappointed, or if I am, that it’s regular disappointment of just being too excited for something you love. Like when you were a kid and you’d have a comedown Christmas afternoon. My fear is that the movie’s plot might be a bit predictable. If you think to a time when you’d never seen the classic Star Wars movies (tricky thought experiment!) the fact is, they’re really surprising and full of lots of cool twists. I hope this movie can do that, though I worry it won’t.

Would you consider writing an entire book based on one of your essays?

Maybe. I think I tried to explain the differences between Star Trek and Star Wars in “No Luke, Captain Kirk is Your Father,” but I think I could go even further. The fandoms are so different, too. I’d also love to write more about the real love people have for all these wonderful things: Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Harry Potter. I’ve got an idea for a book similar to this one, but more focused called Love Is Science Fiction. I’d love to write more about romance and childhood and families and how all of that connects with “geeky” interests.

What aspect of Star Wars do you appreciate the most? It can be anything — whatever pops into your head.

What a great question. Wow. I’ve never really thought of that before. It’s like Star Wars just exists and is like a fact of life. I grew up in the southwest, so I love Mexican food, but I couldn’t tell you what I like about Mexican food. It’s just comfort and home. Maybe Star Wars is like that: I remember feeling so at home with it when I was a kid. I think we all did. That’s why those smart tricky people have Han saying “home” in that one trailer. Despite the slightly gross marketing, there’s something that seems honest and pure about Star Wars. Now, intellectually, I know that’s just not true. Not at all. I know Star Wars is a media product for me to consume. But it feels above all of that. It’s got a magic that hasn’t been replicated.

I guess if pressured into picking one thing about Star Wars that I appreciate the most, I’d have to say the music. It never gets old for me and it can really get me through anything. I was walking down the street in Brooklyn the other day, really stressed out, feeling crazed, and I pulled out my iPhone to put on some music. I picked some of the music from Return of the Jedi, “The Battle of Endor.” It’s the part where all the pilots are like checking in “Red Leader standing by,” and all that. I was like “Okay. I’m fine. I’m totally fine. It’s time to attack the Death Star. I’ve got this.” And that music helps. It’s better than therapy.

As a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, do you think it’s fair when comparisons are drawn between the two, often pitting one against the other?

I think the impulse to draw the comparisons are fair, because they’re the two most popular science fiction/fantasy things ever, and they both take place in outer space. So, the desire to compare them is normal. I think some of the actual comparisons are a little reductive and weird. Like: I think it’s gotten boring to say “who would win in a fight: Han Solo or Captain Kirk?” In the book, I think I tried point out the biggest differences between Star Trek and Star Wars is how they approach the idea of being “bad” or “good” very differently.

Also, Kirk would probably win! 🙂 Because he’s essentially meaner than Han. We’ve also seen him kill way more people. Kirk is a murderer! Big time! Han, not really. Luke on the other hand…I dunno. Luke would actually probably kick everyone’s a**. He’s actually probably the most deadly person in Star Wars. Other than Vader, of course.

Is it your experience that self-professed geeks are harder on each other than non-geeks? If so, why do you think that’s the case?

I guess I think that self-professed geeks are sometimes harder on each other than non-geeks, but that there’s a lot of variety. Just like any group, you’ve got all sorts of different kinds of people. I think though, if my book has one message, or one takeaway, it’s that I think “the angry nerd” thing needs to be over. I think The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons who says “Worst. Thing. Ever.” needs to stop. I think knee-jerk jerky comments from “geeks” needs to stop. I’ve been that guy in the past, and it’s just not a good look. I’ve been writing online for a while, so you know, I’ve seen it all. I don’t have it as bad as others (mostly because I’m male) but I’m shocked at some of the things people have called me. Just because I said I liked Interstellar! Or that sometimes CGI effects are good! So, if we’re talking about the “fanboys” who “rage” about things, I think that needs to go away. Why does that happen? I hope I figured out some of that in my book!

What do you believe to be the ultimate appeal of sci-fi and/or fantasy?

Like Star Wars, this is a tricky one to answer, because it’s been such a big part of my life since I was very young. But we must answer this! This is the big question! I suppose my short answer would be: the ultimate appeal of sci-fi and fantasy is connected with the utterly beautiful abilities of the human imagination. Think about John Lennon and that song, “Imagine.” That’s science fiction. Think about pop songs in general: where is this person singing to me from, how are they making their voice sound like that? I’m listening to Beach House right now: feels like I’m in space! Michael Jackson’s music is like science fiction and fantasy. I quote Samuel Delany in my book when he says “naturalistic fictions are just parallel world stories in which the deviation from the real is too slight for historical verification.” So, you know, everything made-up is kind of sci-fi.

That’s the short answer. The long answer would be contained in the totality of everything I’ve ever written or am going to write about sci-fi and fantasy!

If you had to choose between all the fandoms you cover in your book, which one would come out on top? Why?

Star Wars is the most mainstream of everything I write about, and nearly everyone is some variety of Star Wars fan. My mom would call herself a Star Wars fan. So would my sister: she has a dog named Leia, you know, spelled that way. But my mom and sister don’t like know the backstory of Wedge Antilles or who Wat Tambor is. So there’s different intensities of fans, which makes it hard to pick.

I really like Doctor Who fans though. I have to say, Doctor Who fans are overwhelmingly REALLY nice. Someone wearing a TARDIS dress is someone you can trust. For sure.

Do you think being a geek fosters a real sense of belonging? Would that account for the rising acceptance of geekdom in recent years?

I’m not sure about belonging. I think that idea seems right, but I don’t think it accounts for the rising acceptance. I think the rising acceptance simply has occurred because time has passed. My parents stood in line for Star Wars when it first came out in 1977. They were like both like 26. I’m 34 now and my mom is 64. She remembers watching Star Trek in the 60s! I was in high school when The Phantom Menace came out! And then there’s my friend’s little daughter who loves The Phantom Menace and is counting the days until The Force Awakens comes out. If you start stacking all these generations on top of each other, I think what you find is that the ability to love things you loved when you were a child as an adult has become more mainstream. Star Wars is a good microcosm for looking at that. But Star Trek is too. I mean, I saw a photograph of Chris Pine in GQ the other day and was like WOW that guy is Captain Kirk. That’s super nerdy! But it’s not anymore. Captain Kirk HOT. Though, in a way, this has been underway for quite some time. The 90s are a bit of a heyday for sci-fi on TV. Between The X-Files and all the Star Treks alone you’ve got massive mainstream appeal. So, I don’t think it has to do so much with the communities, but with the fact that the mainstream media has been slowly becoming more geeky, almost as a matter of evolution. Sure. The hardcore fans help create that context, but I mean, come on, when I was a kid TV Guide proclaimed Patrick Stewart was the sexiest man alive. That’s about as mainstream as it gets. And that was like 20 years ago.

Do you believe there’s a downside to being a geek, or being involved in a particular fandom?

No. I think I used to think about the downsides. Even a few years ago, I think I might have been a little embarrassed if I was reading a Star Wars novel on the subway or something. But I don’t think that way anymore. I think everyone loves these things differently and that’s great. Personally, I often find that I am a bit of a black sheep when it comes to more commonly held geek opinions. (Like, I don’t love Firefly, which makes me a pariah sometimes.) All in all though, it doesn’t matter. Geeks can disagree and that’s part of the fun. I didn’t love the new James Bond movie, and I saw this old friend of mine the other night in Manhattan, and he started giving me s*** for it, because he’s a massive Bond geek! But you know, we laughed about it. That’s the important thing, is to have fun. I mean, I’ve had HEATED discussions with good friends about Back to the Future. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s not a downside!

I think if you’re hanging out with someone who casually makes fun of something you’re interested in just because it’s “geeky,” I think that’s awful. That kind of casual bigotry still exists. I hear about this from people teaching college or in college. Professors telling their writing students that sci-fi is garbage. Still! In this day and age! I would love for those people to read my book: those anti-science fiction English professors. The thing about those biases is those people haven’t read “our” literature, but we’ve read “theirs.” That being said, if I’m ever critical of “geeks,” it’s usually that I think everyone needs to read more widely and out of their comfort zone. If you love reading fantasy, you should really pick up a “regular” book, too. I mean Ursula K. Le Guin is the bomb, but you should read Flannery O’Connor, too.

Bonus: The Force — Dark Side or Light Side?

Light Side all the way. Though I’ll paraphrase Sherlock Holmes here: I’m not luminous, but maybe I’m a conductor of light. Meaning, I might not be all good, but I try! I know what Yoda says about “trying,” but whatever, that guy made a lot of bad calls in his career!

Thank you to Ryan Britt for taking the time to answer my questions!

You can find Ryan on Twitter @RyancBritt.

You can purchase Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths here.

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