Geek canon

From Academic Kids

The Geek canon is a canon of books, art, films, television series, games, electronic gadgets, or other miscellanea, which have been influential in the shaping of geek culture[s]. The selection of canon is very loose, and varies significantly between communities. However, there are a number of works — particularly books — which can be said to be geek canon.

The purpose of classifying articles as geek canon is similar to the purpose of Western canon. That is, the purpose is to inform new members about the critical works which are considered required reading of some sort. It is dissimilar to the purpose of Western canon in that canon items are not required consumption for participation, but their consumption can greatly enrich the cultural experience for individual members. Also, because geek culture is commonly anti-authoritarian there can be no legitimate authoritative source for what is or is not geek canon. The event of any source claiming authoritative knowledge will initiate legitimate dispute.

There are few attempts at making complete or consensus lists of geek canon, however there are notable attempts at cataloging specific sections of it. Particularly, science fiction has had a few encyclopedias compiled, whose scope is the body of science fiction work and are unavoidably primarily concerned with canon material. However, for the most part, one geek's list is as good and as complete as another's.

The current geek canon is a composite moving target. On the one hand, you have the articles which are canon to existing geeks. On the other, these geeks will introduce newcomers to the works they consider the most important, for whatever reasons. Either can be considered canon, and both are constantly shifting. It's somewhat meaningless to differentiate between canon and non-canon material, as nearly any work can be highly influential — it's just a matter of degree. What that degree is, and how unique that is to geek culture itself, is a matter for debate.

Geek canon can contain "current" items as well. This mostly includes television shows, as they can run for years, become part of the culture, and still be in production. Items like this usually become part of the cultural dialog, where sometimes the show itself is a two-way participate. Star Trek has usually been such a show, with Voyager and Enterprise being strong exceptions. Other examples include the action-packed cerebral fantasy drama Farscape, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the quickly-canceled Firefly.

Of the older canon, there are many works which are highly influential, but which might not be very beneficial for new readers to pursue. Usually this is because the ideas of that work have been adapted into most other works. E. E. Smith's Lensman series is a debatable example of this. Smith's work has been highly influential within the science fiction genre. For literature fans, it's entertaining to see where this comes from, and the relatively quaint and customarily sexist 1930s-styled language and attitudes Smith's characters adopt. However, at this point it's a literary interest, and the ideas of interest to geeks have been so thoroughly stolen over the last fifty years (e.g., Star Wars), that there's little benefit to reading the thousand-plus pages except to discuss such remaining unique peculiarities as the "inertialess drive".

It actually includes very few particular pieces of art, rather than general art styles or artists. Stan Lee is one artist often recognized in geek canon, for those geeks immersed in comic books. Another artist familiar to fantasy fans is Alan Lee, whose skilled illustrations don several editions of The Lord of the Rings and who was hired as an conceptual designer on Peter Jackson's film rendition of those books.

Another deviation with Western canon is that geek canon can include members other than books and art.

Works which are commonly included in the canon include works of fiction such as poetry (including epic poetry), music, drama, literature from many different Western (and more recently non-Western) cultures, and novels. Many non-fiction works are also listed, primarily from the areas of religion, science, philosophy, economics, politics, and history.



There is quite a lot of science fiction and other geek-related subjects. Some of the most famous include topics such as the future of computer networking and artificial intelligence, such as Neuromancer by William Gibson (in which was coined the term "cyberpunk"), Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson; and books about futuristic topics like space exploration and expansion, such as the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov and Ringworld by Larry Niven. A common theme throughout geek canon literature is the use of knowledge and intelligence to overcome obstacles and make the world a better, or at least more interesting, place to live.

The non-fiction book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy is unusual in that it is both a part of the canon and a work which describes geek culture and other elements of the canon. Twenty years after being first published, it is still in print.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter, is a book on the philosophy of incompleteness, a grand tour of ideas difficult to categorise which is also a work of the canon.


M. C. Escher's paradoxical art is very popular among geeks.


Canon films include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hackers, Office Space, Star Trek, the Star Wars and Matrix series (at least their namesake first films), Tron, and War Games. Many geeks can recite from memory vast portions of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".

Newer films which are slowly being accepted into the canon are Anchorman and, for a short time Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon Dynamite, however, was accepted by the larger masses and has most likely lost its place in the Geek Canon


Examples include the television series Star Trek (particularly the original series), Babylon 5, Firefly, Farscape, and Doctor Who.

Paper games

Games that can be considered geek canon include several editions of Dungeons and Dragons and Dragonlance as well as other similar role-playing games.

Computer games

Computer games usually qualify by being the first of a genre, or early in a phase of computing history; or by being the seeds of a community of players. Games which meet this classification include Civilization, Elite, Nettrek, Nethack, Zork, Ultima, Final Fantasy, Bard's Tale II, Myst and the Space Quest series.

First-person shooters

First-person shooter, or FPS, computer games that meet this classification include Half-Life, Doom, and Quake. Each of these sprouted very large mod communities. These games had, or have, replayability for many years beyond their release due to the mods produced. In the case of Doom and Quake, they were the first serious members of a new genre of games.

John Romero's Daikatana is a peculiar consideration for geek canon. The game is sometimes referred to as the worst FPS of all time. It was developed amid a thriving game community, rather than having a community erupt around it. It received considerable recognition due to the creation of ION Storm (later ION Storm, Dallas) by John Romero, to allow him to freely create games. After daring advertisements, public bravado, perhaps the most dramatic development history of any game to that point, and a great deal of hype, the game was considered by some experienced gamers to be merely average.


Certain electrical or electronic gadgets can also qualify as geek canon. The Amiga computer system is an interesting example of this. It was an early and highly capable personal computer which very many early programming geeks cut their teeth on.


  • Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace books, 2003. ISBN 0441569595
  • Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. ISBN 0385191952
  • Smith, E. E. (Edward Elmer), 1890-1965. First Lensman. Baltimore, Md. : Old Earth Books, 1997. ISBN 1882968107

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