Review: “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks” by Sam Maggs

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Felicia Day, one of the fangirls' favourites. Picture from Pixgood.

Guest reviewer Vanessa takes a break from reading the absolute worst of YA to review something she loved!

I remember growing up as a geek. It was a slightly painful experience, growing up near the middle of nowhere and having absolutely nobody in my local area who was interested in the same things as I was. I could talk at length about Spider-Man, Kingdom Hearts, various obscure foreign movies, books, and more RPGs than you could shake a stick at, but absolutely nobody was interested in my hobbies.

Not because they didn’t care, but, in hindsight, you have to remember that it was secondary school, and you were a huge outcast if you didn’t go with the flow and watch the same sort of things the popular crowd were enjoying. Same way it is in most high schools, really. I don’t particularly begrudge my former classmates for “not getting” why I still enjoyed cartoons and why a video game brought me to tears during one lunch break. (Yep, it was indeed Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I’d imported it and completed it before the game was even translated into English, let alone localised for Europe. Get on my level, nerds.)

I left secondary school in 2008, and of course, throughout my sixth form and university career, I’ve remained in fandom. I’ve watched fans migrate from fanfiction.net to AO3, from LiveJournal to Tumblr and Dreamwidth, learned all the lingo, been to conventions, and you know what? Fandom is a wonderful little world to get into, and it’s gotten me to engage and analyse pop culture in multiple ways. 12 year old me, tentatively asking her parents permission to join a Sailor Moon forum, probably couldn’t have imagined one day squeeing over a radio drama like Welcome to Night Vale or a webcomic like Homestuck, furiously sending theories back and forth to friends, even the silly little character headcanons that popped into my head.
Why am I gushing on about my early experience in fandom? Because this book made me. It put a huge smile on my face, and it also made me realise — fandom’s become such a behemoth these days, that sometimes people just don’t know where to start. Back in 2003, I had crappy dial-up Internet and had to order in my Spider-Man and Batman comics and trades at a slight mark-up whenever I could visit the next town over. Of course, nowadays there’s multiple blog posts on books you might like if you liked the Harry Potter series, and you can easily search for “best Avengers comic to start with”, but even with this wealth of information available at the click of a button, it can still seem rather bewildering to get into fandom for the first time ever.

Maggs (who is also an associate editor for the Mary Sue) uses a very easy, conversational tone, backed up by lovely illustrations and interviews with famous girl geeks such as Erin Morgenstern, Jamie Broadnax, Kate Beaton, Beth Revis, Kate Leth and Victoria Schwab, and even a chapter which is basically a list of the most badass, feminist characters in all of fandom. (Shout out for including Lt. Riza Hawkeye, Captain Janeway, Red Sonja, Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers.) And a chapter on the debunking of various myths about feminism, and why it’s important for anybody coming into fandom to be aware and critical of the issues that still plague large swathes of the industries that make our favourite books or comics or games.

The book also has a guide on how to rock your first convention and have fun in cosplay. There’s a huge list of conventions and events (mainly in North America, though), and resources for whatever you’re into over a wide variety of subjects, from mathematics and science to music to books to video games. There’s also a fairly comprehensive list of the best websites to bookmark as a geeky lady, and even the names that adherents of certain fandoms give themselves as a group. (Although, it may just be me, but I have never heard of a Puella Magi Madoka Magica fan being called a ‘Madokie.’)

Ever since I read Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis’ essay collection on the Supernatural fandom last year, I’ve found myself a little apprehensive reading fannish books like this. Simply put, there was a cringe factor in that book. Sometimes one can go a little bit too far in the name of fandom, you know? But, thankfully, this book sets the balance just right.

One thing I also really liked about this book? Maggs brings up how to deal with trolls and other negativity within the realms of your favourite things.

It’s important that fangirls not suffer the wrath of the troll in silence, because silence is tacit approval. Exposing troll speech to the world reminds the public that these things are happening, rad geeky ladies are being harassed, and that’s not okay.

(Loc. 867)

Girl power, sisters. Go fight that troll in the dungeon. (By the way, this book gave me a new favourite term for virulent atheist neckbeards: the Olog-Hai.)

Of course, if you’ve been to multiple conventions and are a firmly established fan-writer in your circles, this book may not be the best for you. That being said, however, it’s not just a guide that completely holds the hands of neophytes and ignores the long-time fans. You can still glean a heck of a lot of enjoyment out of this book, even if you feel you’ve been there, done that, and got the (geeky) T-shirt.

Putting myself into the head of a newbie to fandom for a second, I would love this book. It identifies major fan groups, tells you precisely which comics and TV series to get into, and brings up how you can engage more in the online worlds of your favourite shows. Live-Tweeting, making gifs, writing stories, etc.

Either way, it’s a wonderfully fun read. It’s a great guide for complete n00bz (as we supposedly used to say in 2004), and also enlightening and entertaining to older fans.

(Also, newbies to fandom — don’t forget, you’re here forever.)

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