Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Geeks and Alpha Heroes

I can admit it, I’m a geek girl. I’ve spent my life so far in one geek profession or another. My coworkers have been mostly male and usually geeks. So, I’ve indeed fallen for a guy based on his Star Wars action-figure collection (not kidding, I married him) — mostly because he’s the only person I know who would actually debate with me how the Ewoks’ lesser technology would really never have been able to crush the Imperial forces, or the differences between the old and new Battlestar Galactica. My geek gets, but usually rolls his eyes at, my preference for bad CSS jokes (.ninja {visibility: hidden;}). We IM each other from opposite ends of the couch, with links to new iPhone bling.

Yeah, I’ve got my geek cred.

Logan Cale (Left, Dark Angel’s Logan Cale as portrayed by Michael Weatherly)

We spend a lot of time in Romance talking about “Alpha Heroes” — those larger-than-life wealthy guys in very manly professions sporting muscles (ahem) poking out everywhere. But where are the geek heroes? Really, the brain is the biggest sexual organ, so where are the likes of computer hacker and activist Logan Cale (Dark Angel), linguist Dr. Daniel Jackson (Stargate: SG1), and astrophysicist Dr. Rodney McKay (Stargate: Atlantis)?

Laura Kinsale, I beg you, come back to writing Romance and make your hero a genuine, binary code-writing/particle physics uber geek. (Did I say that out loud?)

(Right, actor Michael Shanks who portrays Stargate’s Dr. Daniel Jackson.)

This type of character hasn’t been totally ignored, though, and here is a list of a few notables I remember reading:
  • Suzanne Brockmann’s Kenny “Wildcard” Karmody: He’s good with a gun, but even better with a computer.

  • Tawny Weber’s Jesse Martinez: another computer geek, he’s a cyber-crime cop on the trail of a hacker, out of his element in the field.

  • Diana Gabaldon’s Jaimie Fraser: “What?!” you’re saying “A geek. . . in an historical?” Oh, yes. Jaimie is a language geek, able to “pick up” Mandarin in a single sea voyage, able to switch between French and Gaelic at will. If Superman wore a kilt and spoke ten languages. . . seriously, go look up Dr. Daniel Jackson.

  • Suzanne Brockmann’s John Nilsson: Another language geek. Nils sends secret messages to the heroine in Welsh. Needless to say, the heroine speaks his language.
(Yes, I know I mentioned Brockmann twice. It’s payback for all those excellent Star Trek references. I actually count the pages until the first one.)

Rodney McKay (Left, Dr. Rodney McKay as portrayed by David Hewlett.)

Who’s to say that being a geek and being an alpha hero are mutually exclusive? I should note here that I make a distinction between alpha “a$$hole” heroes and alpha heroes. The latter are at the top of their game, the former are just arrogant monkeys. Does “top of his game” have to mean that the hero is at the top of his game in all areas of his life? Nope, because then he’d have no journey, no character arc. From this perspective, a geek alpha hero is a guy who has had epic success in some area of his life. In fact, he’s become a Jedi Master in something specific: computer networking, particle physics, tracking down hackers online, languages. Maybe this definition wouldn’t work for something like say, badminton or basket-weaving,* but it can be a useful way to build a well-rounded character. He can still fight the Big Bad just like all those other alpha heroes, he just does it online, in space, or at the edge of the galaxy heading off a war between the K’laxars and the M’rklars over that arrogant pilot’s inadvertent use of the wrong dangling participle.

Who are some of your favorite geek heroes?

Me, I’m fleshing out my French-fluent archaeologist hero, who just so happens to be in impeccable shape from all that fencing practice he needed in order to join the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Or, maybe I oughta give the computer genuis-turned-hacker anti-hero (who finds himself mixed up with a band of ninja jewel thieves, natch) a try. That hasn’t been done yet, has it?

*Unless his Ph.d is in ancient Samoan basket-weaving techniques and the story in question is a time-travel — guess where he gets to go?


  1. GReat post!
    Sean Maher- Firefly. He's kind of geeky. There's more but I can't think of any right now.

  2. I think Linnea Sinclair's hero in Rebels and Lovers is a vaguely geeky accountant/computer nerd type. He even wears glasses on the cover!

  3. Laura: Sean Mayer, yes! I also think Alan Tudyk's Wash in Firefly/Serenity qualifies.

    Verona: That guy looks an awful lot like Daniel Jackson. :)

  4. Great post! I agree. I like the less muscular, smarter hero. LOL. Course, I'd argue that John Sheppard was also a geek being able to pass the Mensa test and getting passed over by blondes--I'm thinking of the "You wouldn't even date me!" comment. LOL.

    Favorite geeky heroes, other than Shep:

    The Doctor--very smart, excellent with people and tech, and not usually handsome.

    John Crichton--scribbling wormhole theory math madly.

    Paul Atreidies--nowhere in Dune did Frank Herbert ever say he was gorgeous. Supersmart and telepathic, but not handsome. And he wasn't great at everything.

  5. Oh, great topic...

    Cillian Murphy in Sunshine! (Loved him so much he inspired the smart, sexy psychologist hero in Ghost Planet.)

    British rock star physicist Brian Cox

  6. Thanks, Verona! Yep, Devin is more than vaguely geeky--he IS geeky and proud of it. I used Logan/Michael as his image on my bulletin board while writing REBELS AND LOVERS, and his image was the one forwarded to Bantam for the cover art. ~Linnea

  7. And best thing about Gabaldon's Fraser (IMO):
    Man enough to be schooled in the sexual arts by his new, more experienced bride.

  8. Well, Fargo on Eureka is kinda cute. And doesn't he have an arch rival named Bismark?

    I love geeky heroes.

  9. Neo from the Matrix series

    Sam Beckett(Scott Bakula) from Quantum Leap

    Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) - archeology and anthropology at its finest!

    Data & Spock from Star Trek (had to sneak in an ST reference!)

    Geeks abound movie - Sneakers!

    Dr.Ian Malcolm & David Levinson (both played by Jeff Goldblum) from Jurassic Park and Independence Day

    McGeek (aka McGee) from NCIS

    Dr Who (most incarnations) from the British TV series

    Doogie Howser (sp.)

    Mythbusters guys

    Stanley Goodspeed, chemical weapons expert, (played by Nicolas Cage) in the movie The Rock

    Lotta guys from TV shows, not so many I can recall from books.

  10. Oooh! Fun topic.

    How about Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October? Mild-mannered, book-writing, turbulence-fearing analyst saves the world...and secretly acquires state-of-the-art Russian sub in the process.

  11. These are all great characters. To this already great list, I'd add Zane Donovan from Eureka.

  12. What a nice change from the typical romance hero. I'd add Brendon Fraser in most of his movies, but especially in Bedazzled. Total geeky nerd but so lovable.

    Robin Hood in any incarnation, ditto on Zorro and Sinbad. Not necessarily the most handsome or the best fighters, but definitely the smartest, sneakiest ones.

  13. Before there was Daniel Jackson...Richard Dean Anderson played MacGyver. (BTW, you can catch MacGyver reruns on Sleuth TV.)

    With a vast knowledge of Physics and Chemistry...some duct tape he would save the girl and the planet. Geek on a mission.

  14. Wonderful post! I'm a geek girl too and you are surely after my heart when you mention Daniel and Rodney from Stargate!

    Thanks for the great post.


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