‘Halt And Catch Fire’ is great for drama, even better for geek culture

Since activating our free trial of Amazon Prime a month ago – mainly so I could buy a Playstation 4, thank you Prime Day – me and my fiancée have been keen to watch as much of the good stuff as possible through the Amazon Instant Video service before the trial ends.

So after rattling through the sole season of the criminally-cancelled Freaks and Geeks, we found a new programme from AMC – home of Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad yada yada yada – that hasn’t been given nearly the amount of love it deserves.

halt and catch fire review amc

Premiering last year, Halt And Catch Fire has just wrapped up its second season of airing on AMC before transitioning straight to streaming. Since even hearing of its existence only a week or so ago, we’ve enjoyed all of the show’s twenty episodes to date.

And personally I’d absolutely love to see another ten. Much like a Randy Orton finisher, Halt And Catch Fire has come from out of nowhere to captivate and entertain me with its brilliant mix of character-driven drama and fascinating contextual background.

Set during the 1980s, the programme begins with the story of its three main characters working on an exciting new project at Cardiff Electric. Joe Macmillan is the suave yet deeply troubled character who charms his way into a top job overseeing the production of one of the very first personal computers. With more than a hint of Spacey-esque smarm about him, Joe leads a team including recovering techaholic Gordon Clark and young hot prospect Cameron Howe into developing what would become the Cardiff Giant. The name refers to the tall tale of legend which acts as a great metaphor for their struggle both in its mythical promotion and actual behind-the-scenes deceptions.

The three characters struggle to build relationships and business acumen in their bid to out-IBM IBM, and the personal and professional heartache caused as a result. There’s a real friction between the three characters and whoever else they interact with, all of which is brilliantly plotted and performed, as we get a soft reset into season two, where supporting characters Donna Clark and John Bosworth are also brought to the fore for even more of the same great writing and acting.

What’s equally great about the programme is its heavy investment in context; the whole computing industry in its infancy is very well captured within the programme, borrowing liberally from real events. It doesn’t necessarily play out in order, nor is all of it necessarily accurate, but the painstaking degrees of realism throughout in costumes, music and design – right down to the last microchip or Talking Heads track – make it a real treat for computer geeks keen to learn about the world that was.

Highlight of the programme for me is Toby Huss who plays Bosworth – I found out only last night that he played the iconic role of Artie, The Strongest Man In The World during the 90s – whose tough-talking, wise-cracking nature belies a deep sense of loyalty to those around him.

If Halt And Catch Fire is available for streaming on your chosen service, I highly recommend you get it streaming on your TV – and cross your fingers for a third helping of 80s tech geekdom.

Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story

Aside from shovelling back copies of my Calling Spots subscription onto my Kobo, I really needed something breezy to read while soaking up the sun (and a few beers) on holiday last month. So when I stumbled across a geeky love story written from the viewpoints of both its main characters, I thought it would do very nicely.

And it did, quite nicely. Backward Compatible is the story of two college geeks, Kate and George, and their blossoming relationship over a winter break in their small-town home town.

 Backward Compatible a geek love story book

 

Geek Love

From the minute they lock eyes (and angry words) over the last copy of Fatal Destiny X at the midnight opening, Kate and George float in and out of each other’s lives; she while fending off the advances of rival gamer and blogger Seynar (whose 12 followers await his review of The Hobbit with bated breath….kinda reminds me of writing here), while George hangs out with his friend Lanyon and they while away the hours with ball-punching competitions and video gaming.

They drift from mall to restaurant to movies in a fairly resigned manner, waiting until term starts again so they can go back to being grown-ups…until Fatal Destiny X drags them kicking and screaming into late night sessions and an obsession with winning the ultimate geeky prize.

What I liked about this book was the magnifying glass put over the minutiae of everyday life, and the ever-expanding cast’s attempts to geek things up in order to feel normal, and wanted, and comfortable. My favourite books all contain a completely disparate group of people drawn together by common goals and forming the bonds to achieve them. It’s so cool to see that loosely-defined family come together, just as it was to see George and Kate overcome their own overblown neuroses to…well, I won’t spoil things, but it is pitched as a romance novel so you can connect the dots.

What I didn’t really care for though, in a fair few scenes, was the sheer amount of references to geek culture being dropped casually into conversation. I know it’s exactly how I talk to some of the people I’m closest to, but as material used in a novel it feels like there’s a test on every page just waiting for me to feel inadequate and distant from the characters in case I don’t get it. (The very worst offender here is one of the very final ‘clues’ to the relationship – I’ve just Googled it and I don’t feel as if knowing the reference allows me to say “AH HA! Story complete!” It’s not needed either way.)

For some light holiday reading, Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story did just the job; with a semi-ambling plot that’s more about getting to know and feel for the characters as it is to root them on. Next time you’re packing a suitcase, pack this onto your e-reader too.

 

The Geek Snobbery Debate

This word is power, this word is identity, this is our word!

 

(If you don’t feel like watching the whole video, just know that, basically, a very rich and powerful head of a video games company got kids standing up on their chairs shouting “O captain my captain” in tribute to various aspects of geek culture.)

Geek Snobbery

So now we’re reading and hearing the word “geek” used in new and different places, along with alternate assurances and accusations that it’s either saving the world or killing our children.

When Skyfall was released late last year with its new actor playing a younger version of Q – I’m fairly sure it’s Pingu from Nathan Barley but I could be mistaken – an article in The Guardian bravely stood up for these apparently hitherto unwashed losers, to mightily cast aside all negative aspersions of geekdom.

“It’s a good time to be a geek,” says the article, and I’m inclined to agree; not in the sense of “oh wow, finally someone’s cracked the code” – more in the sense of “well…duh.” I say this not even as a member of the geek community; just someone who can fathom that any other attitude would be exclusionary and mean.

“Given the mainstream is learning to stop worrying and love the geek, it’s a shame parts of geekdom remain less accepting than they could be.”

Of course geekdom has its snobby side – I once joined the WACCOE football forum and was jeered off it before I’d even managed a second post. But if I’m gonna go so far as to check out a dedicated website to opinions, facts and stats around one topic, it’s obviously gonna be full of know-it-alls – that’s just the nature of their passion, if somewhat misguided. If someone belittles you for what you like, then that’s just them being a dickhead; don’t judge the whole culture on the few dickheads you’ve encountered within it. That’s just unfounded wholesale discrimination; geekism if you will.

If I meet someone new at work or in the pub, I’m gonna ask them what they’re into, what they like. It’s a quick, easy way to make some conversation. If they like watching Hollyoaks and listening to One Direction, then obviously we’re not gonna be soul-mates; what I won’t do though is raise my hand into their face and say “please stop talking, your interests are below me.” (Even if I did, they shouldn’t then make the assumption that ANYONE who reads comics and listens to indie is a complete tosser – just me, based on my actual physical actions.)

Basically, don’t pre-judge someone based on their geek credentials. If they’re fully understanding of the word and what it means, and still wanna designate themselves as a geek, then they ARE a geek. Who are we to judge otherwise?