Wil Wheaton, Just a Geek (O'Reilly, 2004)

I'm a geek. I've always been a geek, from the time I was a kid. Sometime in my teens, I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). It was about space, it had cool tech toys, it had people accepting things about people who were different, and it had a not-entirely-uncute teenaged guy who was too smart for his own good. Oh, yes. I had a crush on Wesley Crusher.

Eventually, Wesley left the Enterprise, actor Wil Wheaton left TNG, and I stopped watching. (Not as a result, really; I'd found other geeks and developed a social life.) Life went on, and I found other geeky types to crush out about. I never really wondered what happened to Wil Wheaton.

As a thoroughgoing geek girl, I spend a fair amount of time online, reading increasingly odd and random things. Links lead to other sites and other links. From live journal to webcomic, from webcomic to . . . Wil Wheaton's blog? Yup! The child actor was all grown up, a geek himself, and was writing about himself. In opposition to the image of him that geeks and Trekkies kept in their heads, Wil Wheaton was smart, funny, and no longer bitter about the Star Trek franchise.

Then he wrote a book. Well, two, really. The first, Dancing Barefoot, was originally published by Monolith Press (started by Wil just for that book). Now it's been picked up by O'Reilly, which also publishes Just a Geek. (O'Reilly is known for publishing very good books on computer programming and operating systems; they're the ones with the animals on the covers. Among other unusual projects, O'Reilly has also put out several volumes of comic strip collections.)

Just a Geek, subtitled "Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise", is not, as some people have claimed, 260 pages of Wil Wheaton whining about how he used to be an actor when he was a kid. Instead, it's 260 pages of Wil talking about how he learned to stop whining about how people thought of him as a guy who used to be an actor when he was a kid. Well, sort of.

Wil Wheaton talks about his family (a wife and two stepsons, his parents and siblings). He talks about his Web sites, past and present. He talks about auditions and conventions. He talks about his revolving-door feelings about TNG. Most importantly, he talks about his battle with his own personal demons: Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake and the Voice of Self Doubt.

Wil's narrative is punctuated by entries from his blog (or Web log, if you're not one of the Cool Kids), or perhaps it's that the entries from the blog are strung together with narrative as ligature. Whichever way you want to think about it, it makes for a fascinating read. The two together, entries from the time at which the events occurred and hindsight-enabled narration, form a far more complete picture than either alone could have done. Wil is very honest about what motivated his early entries, saying that many of them were written by Prove to Everyone, and he reveals the depression that was often behind his sunshiny words for the Web.

This is not just another celebrity memoir; it's not about having tough times because one is famous. It is, instead, about being just a guy, just a geek, struggling to feed his family and to make peace with himself. It's short on Trek-specific anecdotes, and long on life anecdotes. It's funny, charming, clever, and utterly honest.

The book includes an introduction by Neil Gaiman, the Wil Wheaton dot Net FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), and a few selected interviews with Wil.

[Rebecca Scott]

For ongoing blogging and most of the text of the book, check out Wil Wheaton dot Net.