Book Review 39: Just a Geek

"Seriously, though," he said, "we've just gotten older. You're the only one of us who's actually changed."

Patrick Stewart speaking to Wil Wheaton during the filming of Star Trek: Nemesis

Page 97

We wrap up Star Trek Book Week II: Electric Boogaloo by jumping forward 20 years to Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).

And this is a somewhat meta experience (or is it post modern?). I am writing a book related blog post about a book by an author who wrote his book about his blog posts

Wil Wheton, best known for playing Wesley Crusher (the good guy everyone loved to hate) is also the first cast member to pen a memoir. Well, he didn't really pen it -- he keyed it. Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton is a fun book that takes the reader through a small, but pivotal part of Wheaton's life. He doesn’t tell his whole life story here because so far, he has lived only the first chapter.

This is a coming of age book. It's about how Wheaton learned to appreciate who he is and to deal effectively with the ghost of Wesley Crusher. It's about the process of discovering his own identity and dreams as he passed from teenager to young adults.

That's not the only thing that makes this book different. It's not a freshly written tale about the events in Wheaton's life. It's 275 pages long, but probably less than half of that is new content.

The last 50 pages are appendices. They include the FAQ from Wheaton's website (wilwheaton.net which he refers to as WWdN (this site has since been replaced by wilwheaton.typepad.com). They also include interviews he gave to online news outlets.

Much of the text in the first 225 pages comes directly from WWdN. It's old blog posts that he repurposed for this book.

I don't intend that as a criticism; it's a description of the book.

Wheaton structures the book around these old posts. He chooses ones from pivotal moments in his life and then comments on them, describes what was going on in his life when he made them, and he generally puts hem in context..

He provides pages of commentary about those posts and what they mean to him today.

So it's not just a Star Trek book. It's about a former child star struggling to be an adult star and questioning whether that's the path he actually wants to follow.

Wil Wheaton left Star Trek when he was 18. The pivotal moment was a little earlier. He was attending a Star Trek convention with TNG and Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) cast members. He saw some of the TOS cast members come out of hotel:

I spoke with the arrogant surety of a 16-year-old. "Look at that," I said. "That's my future, if I don't get out of Star Trek and do movies. There is no fucking way I'm going to spend the rest of my life talking about what I did when I was a kid. I'm going to prove to everyone that I can do more with my life than just be on Star Trek.

Page 6

Much of what Wheaton goes though in the book deals with the competing tensions of regretting that decision while simultaneously trying to prove he can be so much more then Wesley Crusher. As he gets older he begins to appreciate some of the challenges he faced as a teenager.

Wesley and I were very similar at the time: we were both teenagers who were pretty smart and pretty skilled. Matter of fact, we were both smart enough and skilled enough to work along side adults and hold our own with them professionally. At the same time, neither one of us had the grace, maturity, or wisdom to hold our own with them socially or emotionally, and t that created lots of conflicts. By not exploring that side of Wesley, beyond "Just tell me to shut up, Wesley, and I will," the writers took a lot of his humanity away fro from him. It also didn't help that they gave me lines like, "We're from Starfleet! We don't lie' and "You mean I'm drunk? I feel strange, but also good!"

Page 257

Today, like in his youth, Wheaton is a geek. Early in the book, he throws in the random 80s TV reference. His wife asked him why he was packing so many shoes for a short a short trip:

'You're taking two pair of shoes for a 36 hour trip?"

"Well. . . Yeah."


I resist the urge to shout, "I learned it from you, okay?! I learned it by watching you!!" Instead, I say, "Dress shoes for my reading, and Converse for the rest of the time."


In between scenes on TNG he would he would often be in his trailer painting miniatures for gaming.

After Star Trek Wheaton went to work in the tech industry. He became involved with an early version of the video toaster.

He taught himself Linux, HTML, CSS, and other computing technologies.

In 2001 he became one of the first celebrity bloggers. Wheaton, however, did not start his blog as a promotional tool. He started it to learn the technology and to voice his own anxieties and frustrations.

The reaction to my entry was amazing. I was flooded with emails and comments from people all over the world who had experienced the same frustrations—the same unfairness—in their jobs. In fact, a theme emerged: I wasn't alone in my struggles. And many people took comfort in knowing that they were not alone either.

I felt validated, and the clouds of depression began to lift. I had made myself vulnerable to the world and the world hadn't kicked me in the nuts. I was certain that this revelation of my inner demons would humanize me in the eyes of my critics.

Page 33

That sort of discussion is at the heart of book. Wheaton looks back at what he was posting a few years earlier, comments on it, and talks about what's going on in his life now.

In addition to the tale of identity crisis and geekness, Wheaton does talk about Star Trek. It's mostly about his relationships with the franchise, actors, and conventions.

The adult actors in TOS were all actors who wanted to make their living in the theater, movies, and TV. They came to the field at the birth of modern science fiction. Wheaton, however, came to the field in the post-Star Wars era. And he did it as a whiz kid. He was a geek in a way the TOS actors couldn't be.

When I am on stage, the only real difference between me and the people I'm talking to is that I got paid to wear the spacesuit. I'm a huge science fiction geek. I've been attending conventions since I was in the fifth grade, and I know what it's like when a guest is only there to take the fans' money.

Page 43

His relationships with the conventions are complicated. He quit TNG so he wouldn't be like the TOS actors on the convention circuit. Yet he still needed to make a living when his acting career was not going well. And if he weren't in TNG, he would probably be going to them anyway.

There is a lot of discussion about this important aspect of Star Trek culture.

Oh, the costume contests. Think Rocky Horror Picture Show, with less drag, but strangely, more singing. In Klingon. Seriously.

Page 42

Well, I've got three things working against me before I even walk into the room:
  1. I'm the last speaker of the day. The fans are tired and a little burned out.
  2. I'm following Michael Dom and Marina Sirtis. They do conventions together all the time, have a set routine that never fails, and the fans adore them.
  3. I was Wesley Crusher.

Page 43

Wheaton talks about his first visit to the Museum of the Future in the Hilton's Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas (since closed).

It's a very surreal experience to see these relics of my youth on display in a museum.

We take our time, looking at all the props, reading all the plaques. Every item we see sparks a memory and Anne patiently listens to all of the stories that go along with them. Imagine sitting through your crazy Aunt Dorothy's vacation slides. It's Iike that.

Page 54

In previous book reviews, I talked about how awful Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier were. Bad movies were not the sole province of the TOS cast, however.

Wil Wheaton put in a brief appearance in Star Trek: Nemesis, a truly awful movie.

Wheaton doesn't trash the movie when he talks about his experience with it. For Wheaton it wasn't really about the movie. It was about the reunion and how great it was to once again put on a uniform and spend time with all those people he spent years working with. He was thrilled when he got the script, even though his part was small. From the original script he thought it would be the best Star Trek movie ever.

I was surprised to see Wesley Crusher in uniform in the movie. Given the way they wrote Crusher out of the series, I would have expected the only way to see Crusher back at Star Fleet would be if he was in a detention cell. And they never explained it in the movie. So what story did they come up with? None. Wheaton asked one of the writers about it.

"Well, I couldn't get into specifics without writing a three page scene, so I figured if I had Picard say, 'Hello, Wesley. It's good to see you back in uniform,' we could leave it up to the audience, you know? Maybe he's back in uniform because he's back from the Academy, or maybe because he's not being a Traveller anymore.

Page 115

Ultimately the movie was too long and Wheaton's scene was mostly cut. Then they started cutting other things.

He tells me that they've cut 48 minutes from the movie. I tell him that they've cut an entire episode out. We laugh.

Page 187

Perhaps if they left that 48 minutes in, the movie might have made a little more sense.

Over the years, Wheaton ultimately came to terms with Star Trek as a personal experience.

Star Trek was about sitting next to Brent Spiner, who always made me laugh. It wasn't about the people who made me cry when they booed me off stage at conventions. It was about the awe I felt listening to Patrick Stewart debate the subtle nuances of The Prime Directive with Gene Roddenberry between scenes. It wasn't about the writers who couldn't figure out how to write a believable teenage character. It was about the wonder of walking down those corridors and pretending that I was on a real spaceship. It was about the pride I felt when I got to wear my first real uniform, go on my first away mission, fire my first phaser, play poker with the other officers in Riker's quarters.

Page 58

Just a Geek is a book that surprised me. I didn't realize Wheaton was such a geek, and I didn't realize he struggled as much as he did. Casting directors still seem him as just Wesley Crusher when he is really so much more. His appearance on Criminal Minds makes him one of TVs creepiest serial killers.

Wheaton is a great story teller who developed into an excellent writer of the years. His book is fun, well organized and fascinating.

Wil Weaton and TNG fans should pick up a copy of this book. The commentary is interesting and entertaining. It gives you a look at what happens to a child star who doesn't get too deeply involved in drugs and alcohol.

And it's a book about blogging. I highly recommend it.

There's one more thought I want leave you with. Wheaton was trying to make a life altering decision about his career a few days ago. He eventually made the decisions after torturing himself for a period of time.

Like all the other things I'd agonized over, the process of making the decision took more time and energy—and was more painful and scary—than the result.

Page 196

That brings us to the close of Star Trek Book Week Part II: Electric Boogaloo. And as far as I can tell, that wraps it up for Star Trek cast member memoirs. It's time to start planning for next year.

So how about it? Avery? Kate? Scott? Nana? Robert? Jolene? Colm? Tim? John? Anyone else?


Jon Clarke said...

Interesting that he spends this book talking about trying to get out from under Wesley's shadow and the world still thinks of him as the kid from "Stand By Me".

Then again, they didn't hate the kid from "Stand By Me".

Anonymous said...

He was in "Stand by me"? Ah, now i remember! Thanks

I think he made the right decision by leaving star trek. They would have fired him later anyway.