Many of you probably got very excited to see that word; more of you are likely puzzled by it. SPOILER ALERT: he’s a character* in George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) series of novels. The much-anticipated adaptation of the first book, “A Game of Thrones”, will be airing soon on HBO.
I’m not going to go into great detail about why I think the series is so terrific, other than to say that Martin has created a swords and sorcery world with incredible depth and integrity. Oh, and that his characters are complex and dynamic, and he has a talent for keeping the reader engaged and guessing without resorting to cheap narrative tricks. But what interests me right now is how deep the universe of ASOIAF will penetrate into the long-term collective geek/nerd psyche.
Of course it’ll depend heavily on the quality of and reception to the HBO series, and its penetration will be tempered by its appearance on a pay channel. But many people will likely be drawn to read the books because of the exposure, even if they don’t watch the series, which would help push it higher up in influence among universes occupying territory in the geek/nerd spectrum.
That’s the short, pithy answer.
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[NOTE: I will probably get clobbered for a lot of what I say below. I’m comfortable with that.]
But really, before we can really establish ASOIAF’s (or any universe’s) position along the Geek/Nerd Universe Spectrum (G/NUS), we need to understand the Spectrum’s underpinnings. I’m going to posit three factors for determining a sci-fi or fantasy universe’s strength (each category’s weighting is in parenthesis):
1. General awareness (50% or 50 points) – percentage of self-identifying geeks/nerds who know what the universe in question is, and who know at least its basic rules and/or key characters.
2. Positive awareness (35% or 35 points) – among those who are aware of the universe, how many identify themselves as fans (or at least like it), and how actively are they engaged with that universe?
3. Longevity (15% or 15 points) – how long has the universe in question existed, accounting for fandom ebb and flow since its genesis?
Prior to running ASOIAF as a test case for this new model, I’m going to create a shitstorm by proposing the “Trek” as the basic unit of measurement on the G/NUS. I know, I know: LOTR has been around longer, and Star Wars is arguably more universal. A fair case could also be made for naming the yardstick after any number of comic worlds, book authors, or Joss Whedon.
But I’m going with the Trek not because I personally favor Star Trek over all other universes (I don’t, though I do love it), but because for better or worse, it was around Gene Roddenberry’s universe that the modern large-scale single-universe fandom template was formed–in great part because Roddenberry himself, unlike Tolkien, fostered and encouraged it. Bear in mind that adopting the Trek as a standard measurement unit doesn’t mean other universe can’t rate higher than Star Trek. But I stand by the Trek universe (all flavors taken together) as the yardstick.
So let’s get down to business! In addition to gauging ASOIAF’s strength, I’ll also run Star Trek through the model to establish what 1.0 Trek Units (1.0 Tu) means.
1. GENERAL AWARENESS – do geeks and nerds know what it is?
Gauging by public reaction to our Hodor t-shirts, it seems like most people are not familiar with ASOIAF, even among geeks and nerds. Simple awareness that it’s going to be featured on HBO does not add up to familiarity, and therefore does not count. So I’m gonna put it around 25% Awareness right now, which is probably pretty high for a universe that hasn’[t yet appeared on TV or film. 25% of the total 50 possible points translates to 12 Awareness points for ASOIAF (I’m rounding all numbers down.) By comparison, I’d estimate that 95% of geeks and nerds are aware of Star Trek today (it’s possible there are younglings who are not) which translates to 47 Awareness points.
2. POSITIVE AWARENESS – do geeks and nerds who know it like it/love it?
Most people who have read the ASOIAF series are enthusiastic about it. Neutral does not count, and I’m gonna put it down as 80% Positive, which is a potential 28 points. But other than people generally liking the series, ASOIAF hasn’t generally spawned a lot of independent and secondary activity (the occasional rogue Hodor shirt aside), so I’m going to discount it down to 18 points.
I believe that the majority of those aware of Star Trek would at least say that they like it, even if they wouldn’t describe themselves as Trekkies or Trekkers. Let’s call it 70% for 24 points, with a high degree of independent activity. Even if most Positives have never gone to a Star Trek convention or learned to speak Klingon, most probably own or have owned some kind of Star Trek thingie, or at least debated Kirk vs. Picard. Still, I’m discounting it a small amount to allow for those with little ardor, to 22 points.
3. LONGEVITY – has it demonstrated consistent staying power?
This one is tricky, and could have just been a modifier within General Awareness, but I think it deserves extra emphasis. But how do you account for the fact that some universes have been around for a hundred years or more, and for the ebb and flow of engagement over time?
On the first count, I’d contend that it’s a function of how much of the current geek/nerd population was sci-fi/fantasy sentient (I’m going with 5 years old) at the time of a universe’s public exposure, and the maximum possible points is proportional that number. In other words, if a universe was already out there when you became sentient, it doesn’t matter if it first appeared a day or a thousand years before–as far as your potential exposure to it is concerned, it’s always existed. For Star Trek, about 70% of the U.S. population might only have been sci-fi/fantasy aware after the first episode’s original air date in 1966, so Star Trek is eligible for a maximum of 70% of Longevity’s 15 total possible points: 10 points.
It ain’t a perfect methodology, but it does help properly credit universes with real staying power. Adjusting for ebb and flow is trickier and more subjective. But if you make a chart, it’ll seem more authoritative! So for Star Trek, I’ve estimated its ebb and flow, year by year, granting it the full 10points at its peak(s). Then I simply calculate the average across all years to come up with the final Longevity number: 8.
Using the same methodology for ASOIAF, which was first published in 1996, the maximum Longevity points allowable should be 1. It may seem unfair to thus penalize younger universes, but remember that Longevity isn’t weighted as heavily as General or Positive Awareness. And since I’m using round numbers, I’m going to go ahead and give ASOIAF that whole 1 point.
Taken together, Star Trek earns 77 of a possible 100 points. ASOIAF garners 31 = or 0.4 Trek Units (0.4 T). Bear in mind that the entire system is geared towards rating a universe’s long-term impact on the overall geek/nerd psyche, and Star Trek is one of the biggest out there. So 0.4 T ain’t too shabby!
So what does it all mean? Mostly that I had too much time on my hands today; maybe when I have a spare week or two, I’ll refine the system and run all of the major universes through the gauntlet.
But I’m sure what it would show is that universes like Star Trek, LOTR, and Star Wars are rare in their ability to fuel the imaginations of so many. And as much as I want everyone in the world to love ASOIAF as I do, if they don’t it won’t diminish my enthusiasm for it by even 0.01 T.
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*yes, I know that Hodor is not the character’s actual name, but I don’t want to scare away the noobs with too much detail on the subject.