What Speculative Fiction has Taught Matt Gilliard

About the Author

Matt Gilliard runs the popular review website 52 Book Reviews where he does author interviews, and reviews SFF books and audiobooks.

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Finding My Tribe

When Sarah asked me to take part in this project about what I’ve learned from speculative fiction, a lot of things came to mind. My vocabulary is largely due to my wide reading habits as is my far ranging sense of various historical periods and many other bits of only vaguely useful information that makes conversing with strangers at parties much easier. I’ve learned to look at any situation from other people’s point of view having read the stories of thousands of characters of every race, creed, age, sexual orientation, and point of view. But as important as all of that is to my development as a person, that wasn’t what stood out to me. To get to that, I’ll need to tell a story. Imagine that.

I’ve been a bibliophile for as long as I can remember. To this day, my grandparents proudly recount the days when I would simply pull down a volume of the encyclopedia and read for hours. I remember those days only hazily, but I know even then I was reading about mythological creatures and the gods and goddesses of civilizations from long ago. Fantasy is in my blood, though it’s taken many forms over the years.

My obsession with Narnia and Oz in elementary school wasn’t something anyone paid attention to, there was no teasing or bullying then. I was just a kid who liked to read. My teachers encouraged it and so did my family. Middle school was different; I hadn’t discovered more sophisticated fantasy and science fiction at that time and comic books were my newest vice. That got me teased. I even remember mocking yearbook signatures about superheroes in my yearbooks. I don’t remember caring. There were other kinds of bullying that mattered more, but that’s something for another time.

Eventually, I found a friend who loved superheroes and eventually role playing games as much as I did. We created our own heroes, devised our own games, and spent countless hours telling their stories together. In high school we gathered more of our kind and our circle expanded. Most of my fondest memories of that time involve late nights, copious amounts of caffeine and oddly shaped dice. College changed things a bit. Comics were replaced by books and I gathered new geeks and gamers. One of the members of that first group of new gaming friends is serving as a groomsman at my upcoming wedding and I count him as one of my oldest and dearest friends.

All of this brings me to my point. That speculative fiction and geekery in its many forms has given me is a real sense of community. A sense of tribe, if you will. My geekery no longer defines me as much as it once did. It’s a bit more below the surface, due more to professional restraints than any sense of shame. But I know how to read the signs in the people around me. I see a particular kind of book cover, overhear a bit of trivia or movie dialogue, or any of the countless telltale signs that only members of our tribe would recognize. And when I find those, I’m that much closer to a meaningful conversation or a possible friendship. It makes it much easier to befriend a stranger when you know there is a strong chance that you will have a certain amount of built in commonality. I find these days, when genre is more and more accepted and mainstream than ever before, that I am never alone for long before I meet someone new who can appreciate the things that give me the most joy.

Being a blogger and reviewer has only expanded the scope of my tribe, taking it to the internet, crossing miles and even oceans to connect to other fans and even the authors who produce the novels that have given me so much enjoyment. Some of those I’ve even come to consider friends. With just a little over one year of being a larger part of the genre community, I’ve made countless new friends and discovered a score of new authors whose stories have challenged my perceptions of the world and my place in it. But most of all, I feel a part of something bigger than myself, a group of people who not only share my passion for the genre but embrace new ideas and new people with open arms ignoring the meaningless labels that serve only to divide.

I realize we are far from perfect as a community and not everyone who wears the label geek, blogger, reviewer, or author espouses the same inclusive and welcoming stance I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter at almost every turn. But most of us try. And that’s more than enough for me. That’s part of what being in the tribe is all about. Imperfect though we may be, we give each other a place to belong. Warts, Starfleet uniforms, Monty Python quotes and all.

Matt Gilliard is the reviewer/operator and chief bottle washer at 52 Reviews, a speculative fiction book review website. When not waxing un-poetic about all things science fiction and fantasy, he teaches Japanese martial arts and works a job too boring to mention.  He also would rather watch Roadhouse than almost any movie on earth. The power of Swayze’s mullet will not be denied.

4 Responses

  • This is so great, Matt! I love this so much:

    “I know how to read the signs in the people around me. I see a particular kind of book cover, overhear a bit of trivia or movie dialogue, or any of the countless telltale signs that only members of our tribe would recognize. And when I find those, I’m that much closer to a meaningful conversation or a possible friendship.”

    I’m always looking for those signs, and even if I say nothing to the person(s), it makes me smile to see people enjoying the same sort of thing I do.

    Well stated, all around, sir!

  • This was beautiful.

    I heard somebody say, “She’s like a fish in this dream sea, reaching up to touch the millions of stars that are right there,” and I knew that person and I would be friends for life.

  • Julie Miller

    Yes. This is exactly how I feel about SFF. It has brought me to my “tribe”. People who don’t just think outside the box, but think outside the World. Yes.

  • It was being more vocal about my SFF interests that actually gave me one of the first senses of community and belonging in my life. So I can relate.

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