Nerd Alert blogger Sarah Kuhn's short novella appeared in 2009. The reviews, especially those by Kuhn's fellow online writers, proved conspicuously positive. Kuhn soon had a sizable following and a movie deal. With its nerdcore subject matter, the hyperbolic ballyhoo, and cleverly-designed cover, One Con Glory recommended itself to me and the opening certainly kept my attention.
Julie, a surly nerd girl, online journalist, and Science Fiction Convention regular, has as her inspiration and mirror Glory Gilmore, the token female member of a fictional Marvel Universe team. Their comic, short-lived, has recently inspired a television series; many of its viewers remain ignorant of the original four-color series. Julie opens the story with an account of how, over the years, she lost her first three Glory action figures, and culminates with a hilarious narrative of how she then lost a fourth figure and her college boyfriend, due to her own nerd obsessiveness.
A few years have passed since that crucial incident, and she's off to GinormoCon on a quest for the now-rare action figure. What she finds might be true love.
The story that follows will not appeal equally to all readers, and for me, nothing manages to be quite as funny or effective at communicating character as that opening sequence. However, One Con Glory finds its saving grace in Sarah Kuhn's witty, fast-paced style. She doesn't give us time to get bored, and I could get behind Julie. Her progress, while predicable, is believable. We see both the little nerdling who became the cranky adult, and the cranky adult as she becomes more amenable to human contact, unmediated by discussions of X-Men trivia.
Still, reading the online reviews for this story, I expected something stronger and fresher— and yes, I suppose, I'm not One Con's target readership. At its heart, we have a highly predictable Rom-Com superimposed on the world of the nerd-con. The secondary characters have, at most, two dimensions, and our protagonist is clearly a Mary Sue. Kuhn tries to ground the love interest, Jack Camden, but he remains, for the most part, a geek-girl fantasy.
Kuhn herself calls her novella's premise "unoriginal" (Author Q&A, 101), but she does provide a few fresh twists on conventions (in both senses of the word). Kuhn describes the world of the Con in layers of geek references which she truly understands. We can certainly picture her world, if we've been there, but it has not been realized in a way that would give the casual or mundane reader the best sense of where we are. She also serves up several stereotypes, but they come from within fandom.
This makes for a fast, fun read, but it's hardly literature for the ages. It also runs briefly; even with several pages of special features, One Con Glory barely breaks 100 pages. It does make an excellent treatment for a movie. I wasn't surprised to hear the rights have been sold; whether or not an actual film appears remains to be seen. We've long needed a comedy, even a rom-com, set in the world of the SF Convention, depicted by someone who actually understands them.
The mainstream media, despite having commandeered Comic-Con and profited mightily from works once the province of nerds, tends to get Geekdom wrong. My fear is that, despite the best efforts of Sarah Kuhn, the film will not do the concept justice.
However, if the film sees completion and release, I intend to buy a ticket. We've had a nerd buddy comedy, nerd black comedy, and nerd road movie, all made with an insider's perspective.1 They all found some success, but all have been uneven in their execution and limited in their appeal. The full-out convention comedy might be a real breakthrough, and One Con Glory has the necessary raw material.2
One Con Glory
ISBN: 978-0578060750, 0578060752
First published: November, 2009.
1. Although not necessarily thought of as a nerd film, the extraordinary Ghost World might reasonably be regarded as the best and most successful film about nerds, albeit teen girl hipster-nerds, a breed apart.
2. The One Con filmmakers should hurry, while Ellen Page is still young-looking enough to play Julie.