On Geeks and Alpha Heroes

This article first appeared at the Writers At Play blog, September 4, 2008.

This month, our own Tawny Weber is asking for nominations for her Hunk of the Month contest and one of the categories is “Geeky Hunk.”

I 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.

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.

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” Karmondy: 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 Jaime Fraser: “What?!” you’re saying…a geek in an historical? Oh, yes. Jaime 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…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.

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. Oh wait, that’s already been done. (That’s for Paisley. Feel better!)

So, 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?