Plenty of adolescents become obsessed with "geeky" interests in high school, only to drift away from them when other interests and imperatives come about.  But what about returning to those interests -- or discovering how they've changes and what else is there?  Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is the autobiographical journey of Ethan Gilsdorf as a once and possibly future geek.

As a teenager, Ethan got immersed in Dungeons & Dragons to match his interest in Tolkien and escape from his "Momster" (who became almost a monster after a brain aneurysm) but drifted away from that imaginary world when other things came about (like his first kiss).  Years later, he found himself wondering: With the rise and popularity of geek culture, what else is out there?  What are the geeks like now?  And would those worlds draw him back in?

His exploration of those questions became a quest not only of international travels but also a wide assortment of imaginary worlds.  Ethan explores electronic massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, engages in live-action role playing (LARPing) in Forest of Doors, goes to the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) massive gathering at Pennsic, attends Dragon*Con and GenCon, helps build a real medieval castle in France, tours where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, and returns to D&D.  Along the way he chats with people about how their interests have affected their lives, searches for that elusive geek love, and wonders about the appeal of these imaginary lands -- and whether he'll return to them.

I wish I enjoyed Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks more than I did.  As a travelogue of the imaginary, Ethan does manage to cover a lot of ground (though skips the massive worlds of superheroes, Star Wars, and Star Trek), discovers a wide variety of fans, and keeps coming up with variants of "Ethan" to name his pretend characters.  However, Ethan's angst about whether or not to return to these imaginary world borders on existential angst and shirt-rending.  This book is of potential interest for people looking to learn about what's out there in the worlds of fantasy (and what the people who immerse themselves in them are like) but could have used a lighter, more objective tone at times.

Overall grade: C+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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