The Performant: Revenge of the nerds


Gaiman and Palmer, the Bay Area Science Festival, and a live game of Frogger

Nerd might still be a four-letter word in high school locker rooms (assuming these are still high school locker rooms to be found), but there’s really never been a better time in history to be an adult nerd. No matter if your inclinations lie in language, linux, or the laws of thermodynamics, a nerdish life lived well is truly the best revenge for all those real or imagined slings and arrows of awkward youth.

Epitomizing this truism, geek-elite power couple Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer launched a joint mini-tour across the West Coast entitled simply “An Evening with Neil Gaimna and Amanda Palmer,” which turned out to be exactly that, no more and no less.

Though shades of goth tinge both artists’ output, their overall aesthetic is more playful than grim. Neil Gaiman, a prolific writer in many mediums, will perhaps always be best known for his long-running graphic novel series The Sandman, while Amanda Palmer, first hit international acclaim as co-founder of the antique punk/Weimer cabaret act The Dresden Dolls. During a pleasurably meandering three-hour evening at the Brava Theatre (two days before their appearance at The Palace of Fine Arts), the two performed bits of their own work—Neil reading from his 2006 collection of short stories Fragile Things, she playing the ukulele and piano with her singular panache. The songs that they performed together were naturally the highlights. Who knew that Neil Gaiman had a torch singer tucked within his black garb and quiet English reserve? He also penned the lyrics for some of the more notable tunes, including a lovelorn lament “I Google You,” plus one of opening act The Jane Austen Argument’s tunes: “Holes.”

It was a brainiac weekend all around, thanks to the Bay Area Science Festival, which hosted a plethora of walking tours, lectures, exhibitions, and hands-on activities for all. Ducking into my friendly neighborhood Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror fiction bookshop, Borderlands, I got an earful from science fiction authors Scott Sigler, Mira Grant, and Jeff Carlson about the “Science of Science Fiction,” primarily about how much research goes into being able to create with a mostly scientific justification for “melting faces” and “zombification”.

Last but not least, the Come Out and Play Festival, wrapped up a week’s worth of street games with an intensely-packed weekend of battle-scaled dodgeball, cardboard tube fighting, city-wide scavenger hunts, and labyrinths. In Everett Middle School’s vast playground, about forty adults plus a handful of kids, showed up to play a few rousing rounds of Field Frogger, a completely analog twist on the classic arcade game of yore. Participants playing “froggers” sat on giant yoga balls and bounced through an obstacle course of banner-carrying “cars,” “turtles,” and ”logs.” By the end of the morning, there were six froggers hopping through the roads and rivers at the same time, which gave the playing field more of an appearance of a collision course than in the original Konami version, combining innovation with chaos and homage with humor.

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