E. Archer’s Geek Fantasy Novel showed up at my house one afternoon in an unexpected package from Scholastic Press.
Fittingly, it turns out. Because while this strange story of a boy named Ralph has its share of strengths and weaknesses, the one thing it wasn’t was predictable.
Plot-wise, Geek Fantasy Novel is about Ralph’s adventure through the worlds of dreams and fairy-tale wish fulfillment as he tries to make sense of his family’s tangled magical heritage. And yet even that’s akin to saying that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is about King Arthur’s quest for that mythical treasure: sure, it’s accurate, but you’re really missing the bigger picture.
My biggest problem with Geek Fantasy Novel is that for most of the book, the storytelling comes off as more clever than good.
I’m a fan of metafiction, mind-bendy writing, and flat-out bizarre storytelling, and Archer is really aiming at all of those and more with his nods toward – and skewering of – fantasy adventure tropes, his willingness to throw in things like a brief Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style turn, and his voicing of a busybody narrator or three.
Trouble is, too often, all these oddities, while fun, get in the way of the story and its characters, who tend to be overshadowed by all that’s unfolding around them.
For starters, we’re told Ralph is a geek. Repeatedly. It almost feels as if Archer’s trying too hard to nudge the reader in a “just like you and me, right, pal?” manner. Aside from an expository scene early on where 14-year-old Ralph applies for his dream job as a video game designer by boxing up all of his idea proposals and sending them to his prospective employer — a visual which I loved — the rest of his geekdom is rather generically expressed: he mentions having gone to comic conventions; he’s seen Night of the Living Dead; and at one point he mumbles an observation about fractals that seemingly serves no purpose other than to hammer home the point that he’s a geek.
And while Archer’s got some really fantastic ideas in these pages, his writing can get a little dense and meandering at times.
I really wanted to like Geek Fantasy Novel a bit more than I did, particularly through about the first two-thirds. Toward the end, though, Archer narrows the focus and manages to weave all his threads together into an appropriate and – for this book – satisfying conclusion.
Still, for those who prefer their tales weird, ambitious, tough to visualize, and unpredictable, there’s plenty to like about Geek Fantasy Novel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does find a home with Young Adult geeky types – not necessarily because they identify with Ralph, but because they’re going to be the ones with the patience and nimble minds to stick with the story to the end.