Review of The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks
by Sam Maggs
This book has an amazing title, and amazing art, and very clever writing. It’s filled to the brim with witty advice and brief interviews from a panoply of self-proclaimed fangirls. So why did it leave me feeling so meh?
Obvious disclaimer here: I identify as a cis man, so by most definitions I’m not really a fangirl, and I’m never going to experience the discrimination that women often face when they present as geeks in person or online. Nevertheless, I’m interested in geekdom, and I like building my sense of empathy for other people, especially people who have very different experiences from me. If I’m going to be a feminist and an ally, I need to know what some women go through and the ways in which many women are creating their own safe subcultures within geekdom.
So from that vantage point, perhaps it’s redundant to point out that I’m not the target audience of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy. And, although I’d probably cop to being a fan/fanboy/fangirl/fanwhatever, and I’m pretty good at geeking out online, I eschew a broad swath of the geeky culture Maggs describes here. Indeed, that was initially why I dismissed my unease while I was reading—I just chalked it up to not really being into merchandising or writing fanfic or going to cons, above and beyond my whole not being a woman.
As I kept reading, though, I started to wonder who is the target audience? Maggs seems to want to have it both ways. She includes chapters (well, lists, really) that are primers for a total newbie: here’s the cliques; here’s some rules for helping you tackle cons; here’s how you use Twitter and Facebook—wait, what? I could see this appealing to teenagers just beginning to spread their geeky wings, except I think teenagers probably know how to use Twitter and Facebook. So is that for the established fangirl who is just venturing into social media? If that’s the case, what’s up with all the definitions and guides to starting out in one’s geekery? When I first started reading this, I was super-excited, to the point of putting a copy in my online shopping cart so I could buy it as a birthday present for a friend. Then I was like, “Wait, what if she thinks I think she isn’t a good fangirl already if I give her this?”
I guess I’m just getting mixed messages here, and these contradictions made it more difficult to enjoy a book that tries—and largely succeeds—to be fine. Maggs is a great writer. Her language is sharp and contemporary. She can explain the concepts, memes, an in-jokes that make online cultures go round (again, not quite sure to whom she’s explaining these things).
The interviews smooshed between each chapter are nice, but they are so short and more like soundbites. I would rather see longer-form contributions, more like the moving essays in Chicks Dig Timelords, Chicks Dig Comics, etc. (I’m not saying they need to be as long as those essays, but a little more varied, maybe.)
Probably my favourite chapter is “Geek Girl Feminism,” where Maggs lays down the basics of being a geek and being feminist. She busts some myths and also highlights several feminist icons in science fiction and fantasy fiction. Given some of the very gendered, very misogynist rhetoric emanating from some sections of geekdom lately (Gamergate, anyone?), it’s so important, now more than ever, that we reaffirm that most excellent philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
So there’s lots of good in this book, lots to celebrate and enjoy. I had fun reading it. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t quite come together into a coherent volume. Labour of love? Yes. Great production quality? Yes—love these illustrations. Fun? Sure. There are lots of reasons you might want to pick this up. But there was little enough about the content or substance of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy to … well, make me fangirl about it.
Sorry, but not having the feels here.