Ich bin ein anorak

Some terms just don’t translate. I’ve struggled, not particularly diligently I admit, to explain to my beloved what an ‘anorak’ is and what it means. This useful page does the job much better than I.

My need to explain this grew out of my ongoing consideration of Rob Gerrand’s new anthology of Australian science fiction. I’ve put a lot of thought into considering the structure of the book, what it is about and what it appears to be about, SF scholarship in Australia, whig histories and many, many other things.

As I diligently worried away at these questions I began to wonder why? Why was I bothering? Who actually cared. I know I care whether an anthology is intelligently assembled, and that it makes some kind of argument. But who else does? Does anyone really care about the intrinsic integrity of a description of sf history, or am I alone?

And the word ‘anorak’ whispered itself in my ear. Only an anorak would care about the minutiae of sf history. Only an anorak would care about the argument made by an anthology. In fact, only an anorak would care about much of the central arguments about SF itself. What I’m coming to terms with – and this is a big thing that I need to work on am struggling with articulating – is that those of us who are fascinated with science fiction and who are committed to helping the centre hold, to defining things and to arguing about the central importance of some kind of core sf are wrong. The centre did not hold. No one really cares about that. The task we should be attempting is to describe the literary diaspora that is happening in the wake of sf’s centre failing to hold. It’s harder, but probably more important (I think), and almost certainly more rewarding. Of course, I may be wrong, or change my mind next week.

As to the Gerrand book: I looked at it for days, thinking over and over ‘who is this for’? It’s big, it’s serious looking, it’s a little pricey, and it’s mostly filled with writers you’ve never heard of. Who would want such a thing? And then the penny dropped: librarians. It appears to be a book for librarians to buy and feel good about. Maybe some anoraks too, but mostly librarians. And is it good? Well, I hope to provide a detailed answer to that in a book review, but I basically think it’s ok. It desperately need interstitial material to give it context, and the story selection is idiosyncratic, but it’s ok. I will say, though, that I can’t imagine a non-sf reader liking it. The book opens with a handful of stories – including an awful Norma Hemming piece – that are so dated and conceptually bland that might only appeal to the most hardened of anorak’s.