Wil Wheaton: Dancing Barefoot & Just a Geek

Wheaton, Wil. Dancing Barefoot (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2003)

Wheaton, Wil. Just a Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 2004)

Almost everyone knows who Wil Wheaton is, but far fewer know that he is a writer as well as an actor. His blog resides in the must-check-several-times-every-day section of my RSS reader, purely for the pleasure of reading his great posts.

After having read his blog for some time now, I finally got around to picking up his first two books: Dancing Barefoot was Wheaton's first book, containing outtakes from the subsequent Just a Geek. With one exception, I can understand why the tales in Dancing Barefoot were cut from Just a Geek. Although entertaining, the first four of the five stories aren't as strong--or always as well told--as the fifth: "The Saga of SpongeBob VegasPants" is easily the best (which is a good thing, as it comprises two-thirds of the book) and is worth the cover price all by itself. (You'll want to read the full Dancing Barefoot version, as the truncated version in Just a Geek leaves out too much.)

Wheaton's fanboy encounter with WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER--you'll have to read the story to fully appreciate the all-caps usage, which sounds in my head just like Shatner's "Denny Crane" self-announcing from Boston Legal--is heartbreaking, but Wheaton recovered well enough to write engagingly about it. Indeed, that's one of his strengths as a writer: to write well enough about Star Trek fandom, or music, or geeking out over meeting Tim O'Reilly (the founder of his publishing house) that the reader doesn't need to be a Trekkie or an alt-rock devotee or a PHP coder to appreciate his tales. Wheaton tells his stories well, and with a great sense of humor; from what I read on his blog, he's become an even better writer since these two books saw print.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Wheaton's writing is how he handles his interior dialogue. The multiple "voices" in Wheaton's stories illustrate so much of what goes on inside his head, and he does it so well that it seems as effortless as his humor. That is the mark of a great writer. If you are an unrepentant Trekkie, or have an unfulfilled inner geek--or even if you just appreciate well-told stories--you should read some Wil Wheaton. (You can thank me later...)

Now on to the digressions:

I had noticed Wheaton's use of "thank Bob," which I took to be a freethinker's phrase, early in the book (p. 32 of Just a Geek, or this blog entry). This later passage confirmed my hunch:

I am not a religious person. I'm not quite an atheist, but I'm certainly not a theist, either. Friends describe me as an agnostic Taoist, whatever that means. I prefer to apply philosophies, rather than follow a leader, and I'm always coming back to the Tao Te Ching and the teachings of The Buddha. If I had the patience, I suppose I'd be a Buddhist. (p. 85)

When he used the phrase "for the love of Bob" later (p. 235), a wry little smile crossed my face; now there's something else I like about him. Also endearing is Wheaton's geekiness, which never lapses into a geekier-than-thou superiority. This email autoresponse from page 234 is a great example:

From: Subject: Automated reply from


Don't you hate autoresponders, $GOOD_FRIEND?

I know that I do, and I would *never* dream of sending an autoresponse to anyone, not $MUTUAL_FRIEND, or $OTHER_MUTUAL_FRIEND, or even, $ENEMY.

You know, $THING_YOU_EMAILED_ABOUT really was ${fVAR=TRUE_FALSE)! It reminded me of $INTERESTING STORY.

Well, I have to get back to ${fVAR WORK_PLAY_SCHEMING}, $GOOD_FRIEND, so I'd better sign off.



I laughed my ass off when reading that; it was the perfectly cheeky thing to do. </groan>

Wheaton is enough of a geek that he stumped me once, when he asked rhetorically: "I wonder if any of the other actors got it when there'd be a graphic in engineering labeled 'Kaluza-Klein Field.'" (p. 244) I Wikipedia'd "Kaluza-Klein Field" and--when it looked vaguely familiar--began looking through the science section of my home library: Sagan, no...Hawking, no...then I found it discussed in John Gribbin's In Search of the Big Bang: Quantum Physics and Cosmology. (After reading The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters for a class on the philosophy of science, I went on a serious science bender. Gribbin's books played a major part in that, although I haven't picked up Big Bang in--cough, cough--quite a few years...)

By the way, Wil...WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER may have acted like a jerk to you during that first meeting during the filming of Star Trek V because he was distraught over how much SERIOUS ASS his co-written-and-directed-by film was SUCKING. (I would complain that I actually fell asleep while watching Trek V, but that may have been because I watched I-IV back-to-back immediately beforehand. YMMV...)


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