Contented Reader

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Going Postal

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Going Postal

Terry Pratchett


I’ve read this book before.  This time, I was noticing Stanley, the archetypal Creepy Nerd.  I suppose that after decades as a fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett has probably had lots of encounters with creepy nerds.  There’s a book I’d love to read:  “True tales of life as a famous speculative fiction icon.”  With essays contributed by a variety of writers, actors, directors… for the first time, I almost wish for publishing clout.

Stanley is a natural obsessive stamp collector before the invention of stamps, so he collects pins.  He knows immense quantities of minutiae about pins.  He has a dark side, a part of his mind that shouldn’t be explored.  He needs his mind to be occupied with something other than darkness.  And so he finds something that can fully occupy his mind.  And then stamps are invented, by the new postmaster of the new post office, and he finds his purpose in life, and all is well.

I’ve known people like Stanley.  Nerds are my people, too.  People who… well, as ardent as they were in their hobbies, I could just sense something wrong with them, under the surface.  Something off, in a disturbing way.  Once or twice, I had a few unpleasant run-ins.  I’ve been Stanley, too.  I know how it feels when your brain just won’t slow down, and seems to be running programs that can’t possibly lead to any good for anyone.  Getting deeply involved with learning something new is a great way to deal with that.

Besides the Creepy Nerd, Going Postal also profiles the other kind of nerd- the ‘clacks’ engineers, in their semaphore towers, are images of the computer engineer- solitary, odd, devoted people who labor long and hard for little pay or thanks, for the joy of seeing the thing work, and though they know their work is controlled by people who use it for profit, or to harm, and always without understanding it even a little bit, they continue to work.  Because the work isn’t work, it’s life.  This is the kind of nerd who built the internet, and keeps it running, and I hope they see themselves in this book and are pleased with the picture.

So there’s the best and worst of geekdom in this book, the devoted programmer and the creepy obsessive.  That’s the way our subculture works; we make room for people whose brains work differently, and that attracts some awfully odd people and some surprisingly brilliant ones.  It’s a community of people for whom community, in general, doesn’t always work especially well.  Writers can occupy a strange position in that community, not always part of it and yet at its center.  It was nice to see the affection with which Pratchett created Stanley, who, despite his disturbing oddness, is a very likable character.


Written by Contented Reader

September 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Reviews


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