July 13 is Embrace Your Geekness Day, but you know what I say? Let’s keep the spirit of Geekness alive all year long and make every day Embrace Your Geekness Day.
With that in mind, I’ve created a sort of 101 class for hardcore geeks and those with geek tendencies alike. Keep in mind, this is a survey course – with a focus on science fiction and horror. It was hard narrowing down to ten items, and there are plenty of great things that could’ve made the list. Sorry if your favorite geek obsession didn’t make the cut.
There’s a good chance you’ve read or watched at least some of these recommendations on this list, but here are ten essential books, movies and TV shows to boost your geek knowledge.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I first read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the third or fourth grade. To say it changed my life is probably an exaggeration. At the same time, the world made more sense after reading it – which is odd, because little in this series makes sense on the surface.
A hapless every man, Arthur Dent, manages to escape our planet right before it’s blown up to create an intergalactic highway. Things get weirder from there, as Arthur Dent goes on many adventures he’s not suited for, including the successful (and disappointing) search for the meaning of life.
To begin with, stick to the first two books in the series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Together, the two books tell a complete story, and they have the best balance between Adams’ passion for science and his pessimism that we’re often far too dim to appreciate the world around us.
The Dark Tower
Speaking of books I shouldn’t have read at an early age, I give you The Gunslinger, the first installment in Stephen King’s hybrid fantasy/sci-fi/western series, The Dark Tower. It’s a great time to pick up or revisit this series, since a long overdue film adaptation is finally making its way to theaters this summer.
From the start, King envisioned the series as a melding of The Lord of the Rings and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Think King Arthur’s Knights with six-shooters fighting vampires and killer robots and you’ve got an inkling of how crazy – and awesome – this series gets.
As much as I like where the series ends up, I still prefer the early books – especially The Gunslinger, which most closely resembles a western with a few sci-fi/fantasy concepts. If you plan on seeing the movie, I recommend reading The Gunslinger first to see how the book and the movie don’t sync up, which is intended for reasons I won’t spoil here.
H. P. Lovecraft
Despite being essential reading for fans of horror and sci-fi, H.P. Lovecraft is a bit difficult to recommend. Not because of the quality of his stories – he’s probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th Century – but because of the man himself. Lovecraft was an unapologetic bigot, even by the standards of the 1920s and 1930s, when he wrote his major works. There is something to be said for separating art from the artist, but Lovecraft’s unease of anything or anyone not resembling himself fuels his works.
If you are interested in giving Lovecraft a chance, just to see what the fuss is about try his novella At the Mountains of Madness. It’s about an Antarctic expedition that stumbles upon an undiscovered mountain range containing a presumably long dead civilization. It features all the hallmarks of Lovecraft’s works – learned men discovering strange monsters and humanity’s infinitesimally small place in the cosmos – with little-to-none of the author’s worst impulses, both as a writer and a person.
Full moons. Crumbling castles. Villagers with torches and pitchforks. The best type of scientist – the mad scientist. And the most iconic monsters in all of cinema. The Universal Horror movies have it all.
Keep in mind, these movies are from a different time. They might feel long despite their short running time to many new viewers. If you’re willing to give them a chance, start with the three Frankenstein movies featuring horror legend Boris Karloff – Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). Only the first two movies are essential viewing, but Son of Frankenstein is worth it to see how much Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks borrowed from it to create Young Frankenstein (1974).
I’ll make the argument that Bride of Frankenstein is one the most important movies ever made – up there with Citizen Kane and Casablanca. An allegory for anyone who’s felt different or alone, it’s provided wonder and comfort to generations of fans.
The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still, both released in 1951, make for an excellent double feature. Both movies have gorgeous black & white photography, classic movie monsters and film scores featuring the nerdiest instrument of all time, The Theremin.
I recommend starting the night with The Thing from Another World. Moviegoers are more familiar with the remake, John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. It probably goes without saying that the 1951 Thing isn’t anywhere as gory or pessimistic. In this version, the Greatest Generation, including servicemen who fought in World War II, work together to fight an alien threat at a remote base near the North Pole.
In The Thing from Another World, it’s action, not words, that saves the day. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a counterpoint to that argument. A film concerned with atomic anxiety, The Day the Earth Stood Still is about a peaceful alien visiting Earth and telling us to solve our problems peacefully before we blow ourselves (or our cosmic neighbors) up.
Both movies provide an excellent snapshot of where we were in 1951 and both how much and how little things have changed since.
Planet of the Apes – The Sequels
And speaking of blowing ourselves up…
I’ll assume you’ve seen or know the ending to the original Planet of the Apes (1968) (see above). You might not be as familiar with its four sequels released in the early 70s, each of which looks at that final haunting image of Charlton Heston beating his fists into the sand and says, “Hold my beer.”
To say these aren’t feel-good movies would be an understatement (and props to the rebooted Apes franchise, which has a new movie out this month, for keeping that bleakness alive). The sequels vary in quality – but the trick to getting the most out of them is to set aside a weekend to watch them all back-to-back. When viewed together, the movies create a cycle of characters succumbing to or being the victim of humanity’s worst impulses. Not the happiest experience you’ll ever have, but I’d argue an essential one.
Deep Space Nine
Now let’s move into TV (and something a bit cheerier than Planet of the Apes). Of the five (soon to be six) Star Trek TV shows, Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) is something of an outlier. It’s the only show not set on a spaceship exploring strange new worlds each week. Instead, Deep Space is set on a giant space station near an alien planet called Bajor, which is rebuilding after a long occupation from one of the series’ main antagonists, the Cardassians.
Deep Space is about a number of diverse cultures learning to form a community – and what happens to that community once a galaxy-wide war breaks out. It’s a darker, more complicated show than most Star Trek fare, but it still embraces the franchise’s core beliefs that diversity and cooperation makes us stronger.
And let’s settle the “Who’s the best captain – Kirk or Picard?” once and for all. The answer is obviously Deep Space’s Benjamin Sisko.
Doctor Who – The Tom Baker Years (1947-1981)
Doctor Who had already been on the air for a decade before Tom Baker donned that ridiculously long scarf to play the Doctor in his fourth incarnation. By that time, almost everything about the show fans love to this day was already in place. But it’s no surprise that when fans think of the original series, their minds often go immediately to Tom Baker and his Doctor.
This partially has to do with Baker having the longest tenure in the part, a whole seven years. And for most of those seven years, the original show was at its creative height. Most importantly, though, no actor in the part has ever been as alien as Tom Baker. There are moments where you buy that Baker himself is from another planet.
Listed below are five Doctor Who stories taken from the span of the Fourth Doctor’s adventures, including “City of Death,” co-written by none other than the previously mentioned Douglas Adams.
The Simpsons, Seasons 3 (1991-1992) and 4 (1992-1993)
Every Simpsons fan has their favorite eras of this show, and Seasons 3 and 4 are the height of the show for yours truly. During this time, the show had its best balance of broad satire and observational humor. The Simpson family was still relatively grounded, resembling a real family with real struggles. That’s not to say it was a “slice of life” show at this point, but Homer Simpson hadn’t gone into space or went to work for a Bond villain just yet.
Such great episodes from this time include “Flaming Moe’s”, “Mr. Plow” and “Marge vs. the Monorail.” And Season 4 features one of my very favorite Treehouse of Horror segments, “King Homer.”
Batman: The Animated Series
Best. Version. Of. Batman. Ever.
Premiering in 1992 and running throughout the 90s, Batman: The Animated Series was designed to resemble but not be a direct continuation of the Tim Burton Batman movies. But that resemblance turned into something distinctly its own as the show developed. The animators doubled-down on the look of Burton’s Gotham City, as if the present day never completely moved away from the look of Art Deco and 1930s fashion. And like Burton’s films, both Batman and the villains were damaged individuals who needed the masks and crazy costumes to make sense of some past trauma.
Unlike the Batman movies of the 90s, the look and tone of The Animated Series was much more cohesive. Everything about this show – the animation, the writing, the acting – was far superior to any other animated show on at the time. To this day, there hasn’t been anything quite like it.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this and found something new to watch or read this summer. We’d like to hear about whatever geeky books, movies or shows are essential to you.
Jeremy is the Promotions Assistant at HPB Corporate