Geek Chic

The hero of my new novel is a Knight of the Round Table living in the 6th century . . . and an unabashed geek.  Modest in his fighting abilities (“I was born slight of build—same design flaw that killed my mother trying to give birth—which I more than under-compensated for with slow reflexes and a mild case of awkwardness), although he gave a reasonable accounting for himself in the Saxon wars.  His real contribution to Arthur’s successes was as quartermaster, however, providing food, armor, horses, and supplies to the armies.

He can also do (cue the Jaws music) . . .  math.

Gascon clearly thought it was magic when I gave him the correct date for Easter.  “How do you know how many days are in twelve—what do you call them—lunar months?”

 “You multiply twelve by 29½.”

 “I don’t understand what that means.”

 “And yet it’s God’s command.  ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’  I wouldn’t think you could become a priest if you weren’t going to obey God’s commandments.”

Gascon’s eyes glazed over, but when I looked away I caught him crossing himself out the corner of my eye.  Well, that was exactly the same reaction I got when I tried to explain mathematics to anyone.  Although this wasn’t exactly mathematics; it was merely arithmetic.  But it had been the same for Merlin.  “I have been able to explain multiplication successfully to maybe a half dozen clever lads,” he told me once, “but long division can be done by exactly one other person in the whole of Britain: you.”

OK, think about that a minute.  Your cavalry element has one hundred and twenty-seven horses, each of which needs 21 pounds of hay and 1½ pounds of oats per day.  And exactly one person in the entirety of this island can figure out how many wagons it will take to carry fodder for a 30-day campaign, assuming no horses die?  Much less if the white knight leaves Caerleon riding 3½ miles per hour and a half hour later the red knight gallops out of Bath and averages 4¼ miles per hour, how many miles west of the Avon do they meet up?

So what is a geek?  According to Wikipedia:

The word geek is a slang term originally used to describe odd or non-mainstream people, with different connotations ranging from “an expert or enthusiast” to “a person heavily interested in a hobby”, with a general pejorative meaning of “a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual”.

The definition of geek has changed considerably over time, and there is no longer a definitive meaning. The term nerd has a similar, practically synonymous meaning as geek, but many choose to identify different connotations among these two terms, although the differences are disputed. In a 2007 interview on The Colbert Report, Richard Clarke said the difference between nerds and geeks is “geeks get it done.”  Julie Smith defined a geek as “a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace—somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager’s room in his parents’ house.

Although often considered as a pejorative, the term is also often used self-referentially without malice or as a source of pride. Its meaning has evolved to connote “someone who is interested in a subject (usually intellectual or complex) for its own sake.”

My writing partner, SusanH, refers to Kay as “Geek chic.”  She likes him, although to me he’s a lot like Bradley Schuster who was a complete smartass.  SusanH hated Bradley so much she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) even read his story.  But I think that wasn’t so much because Bradley was a smartass, but rather because he was sleeping with his girlfriend but they weren’t in love.  Such things often offend SusanH’s sensibilities—not the sex, but betraying the Romantic Code.  She’s a hopeless romantic, and such behavior can cause her to turn on a character (it’s been something we’ve had to work on, since my characters routinely indulge in such behavior).

Here’s a couple more examples of Sir Kay at his geekiest (kaffka is coffee):

What the king didn’t have to do—at least, what Arthur didn’t have to do—is pay attention to his own household.  Because he had me to do it for him.  And when it comes to the Seneschal business, I’m right up there with Jesus and all the other gods.  Probably better, even if gods would never admit such a thing.  If the priests are right and you go to heaven when you die, I fully expect to be put in charge.  Get those fucking cherubim and seraphim whipped into shape.

One thing I know for sure: if that happens, we’re going to have kaffka every day for the rest of eternity.  Zeus and all his buddies will be dropping in from Olympus.  “Hey, Yahweh, what’s up big guy?  What say you invite us in for a cup of kaffka?”  And Thor and Odin and the gang will be hanging around so much that the bottom will drop out of mead sales and ultimately there’ll be a recession in those parts of the world.  Oh, well.  What’s a little inconvenience for mankind, compared to kaffka for the gods?

And one more.  Here he is talking with his friend, Father Gascon (one of the first three Christian missionaries to the British Isles).

“It’s easy to calculate when Easter falls, once you’ve know the date of any full moon and any Sunday.  But what I want to know is, how do they know what year it is?”

Gascon looked smug.  “Our Lord was born in The Year of Our Lord One.  So you just count forward from there.  That makes this The Year of Our Lord five hundred and twelve.”

“Who counted?”

“Um, that I do not know.  Perhaps the magi counted?  They were supposedly quite learned.  I think that is what the term ‘magi’ means: wise one.”

“Balthazar, maybe?  I like that idea.  When he was on his deathbed, he told his son what number he was up to so his son could continue counting.  Perfect.  Except for just one question: what year was Balthazar born?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, suppose Balthazar was forty years old when he first laid eyes upon the infant Jesus in The Year of Our Lord One.  So what year is forty years before one?”

“Stop, you’re making my head swim.  Here, let me buy you an ale and thrash you soundly at a game of chess.”

“Well, if you can just declare it to be a particular year, then I, Sir Kay, Seneschal of the Court of Arthur and thus the Kingdom of the Greater Severn Valley, declare that the year Arthur drew the sword from the stone to be The Year of My Lord One.  So this The Year of My Lord—by the sacred fishhook of Saint Andrew, can it be that long already—Twenty Six.  And I was born in . . . let me see.  The Year of My Lord Negative Twenty.”

“Negative twenty, indeed.  You can forget the ale.  You’re clearly destined to be insufferable today.”

Perhaps I was.  As with many new things, the concept of negative numbers was brought by Merlin from the East.  It even took me a while to grasp it—I was fifteen at the time, and more interested in the chambermaids than numbers smaller than nothing—but eventually I did.  And here I was showing off in front of poor Gascon, who’d had no teacher other than some priest assigned the chore.

“My humblest apologies, dear friend.  Here, I shall buy the first round and sit here quietly and meekly before your fierce assault.”

 It’s easy for me to write geek.  “Write what you know,” is the first advice we give to new writers.  And I am at my core a hopeless geek.

geek kid


5 thoughts on “Geek Chic

  1. Since geeks are currently hot and trending, that little fella’s dad has probably had numerous opportunities to score. Especially if he’s as cute as the offspring. And I do love Sir Kay and his geekness. As well as his snarky, smart ass humor. My favorite kind . . . as long as the balance is always tipped to self-deprecation. Otherwise you end up with Bill Mahar or early Letterman. Shudder.

    Now to my hopeless romantic status. Yep. But that is not to say that I have any objections to sex-for-sex-sake, no romance or love needed. (Liking might help.) As long as–you had to know there is a catch–that’s the way both (all?) parties view it and the balance of power is reasonably close. Having said that, I definitely believe that our most significant erogenous zone is between our . . . ears. “I want you” is always going to be way hotter than a text message saying, “I need to get laid. Can you spare 20 minutes?” Not that any of your heroes have resorted to that.

    As for Bradley–and I read part of the first revision only–to me he felt misogynistic. Taking, never giving, and referring to a woman as his girlfriend when he wouldn’t even call her by name. Since it was written in first person POV, there was nothing that convinced me that she truly saw the relationship in the same way. (BTW, the latest revision of Bradley Schuster is still sitting on my bedside table. I may yet get up the nerve to try again.)

  2. Re Sir Kay & his mathematical knowledge: How would you do long division without decimal fractions? I don’t think that was available in Western Europe in the 6th century. As far as I know, decimal fractions were invented in China in 1st century BCE, then spread to Islamic countries in 9th century C.E. & later to Europe. Or maybe there’s another way to do long division that I don’t know about. . .

    • There are a lot of anachronisms. Chess, for example. Coffee. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Hopefully, all part of the fun. Most of them are explained as “Merlin brought this back from the Middle East.” So we’ll just assume this is the case with decimals as well.

  3. Hmm. Now you have me thinking about Bradley. There was something about Bradley that I didn’t like, even as you know, I enjoyed the story, and I’m hooked on your voice, though it’s more sophisticated and flows better now than it did in Bradley.

    I’m trying to analyze why I wasn’t particularly fond of Brad. Since it’s been a while, I have to hazard a guess that it was because he seemed to be a user. I don’t recall any Blake Snyder “Save the Cat” moments. But it’s been a few years since I read it…

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