Wiffle Lever To Full review

One man's search for Geek credibility chronicled...

Author: Bob FischerISBN: 978-0-340-96201-5

Bob Fischer is, like many readers of this site, something of a geek. Like most, he’s aware that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but he’s content with it being part of who he is, rather than what he is – that is, until some feeling between nostalgia and introspection compels him to buy tickets to a nearby Doctor Who convention. Soon, Fischer finds himself booked up for a year’s worth of Sci-Fi and Cult gatherings dedicated to his childhood passions, and his book, Wiffle Lever to Full, is born.

The immediate feeling is of a Dave Gorman-esque quest for meaning in the obsessions of everyday life, but there’s also a little of “High Fidelity” in the approach Fischer takes, as he occasionally attempts to reconcile geeky pursuits with a more adult world of relationships and “grown up” behaviour. While there’s a lot to enjoy – and there is much – it’s not quite everything that it could be.

The problem, if anything, is that the narrative doesn’t quite hang together. The prose is fragmented – Fischer collects his memories and experiences in no particular order, while the chapters dealing with each area of geekdom are stuck in a rigidly defined structure that uniformly explain, examine, reminisce, then break away to present a few pages of childhood writing. As a result, the book is faced with a stop-start structure, breaking for something new every few pages and never quite getting into the swing of things, nor telling the story that it wants to. Wiffle Lever is very easy to pick up and read in small chunks, but ultimately does a disservice to it when viewed as a whole.

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Fischer’s topics are pitched just right for geeks of a certain age, with memories of Star Wars at the cinema and Doctor Who at teatime. Unfortunately, that’s a few years out for me. I, with some arrogance, grew up seeing all of that as being a bit old-hat and rubbish, and spent my conventions harbouring some disdain, if not outright hostility, towards rabid fans of what I felt was dodgy, old cult properties whose time had passed. While my slightly sneering attitude towards such creations did disappear as I grew up and saw my own favourites lapsing into history, there’s still no affection for Blake’s 7 or Robin of Sherwood in me that Fischer can connect with. The truth is that without any goodwill to mine, the deconstructions quickly become a bit tedious, occasionally bordering on meaningless, and the convention tales lack context. 

Luckily, there are as many, if not more chapters that I was directly interested in – my memories of Red Dwarf, Hitch-Hiker’s Guide and Star Trek are all, in their own way, clear and fond, so the material in those did connect with me instantly. My advice, then, is to quickly check the contents before purchase, and the more you see a chapter heading you enjoy, the more reason there is to buy the book. Fischer’s convention experiences will be familiar to anyone who’s ever made the leap from casual fan to unashamed geek by attending one, and his stories, if nothing else, present a valuable document of a year’s events, nicely capturing the essence of who attends them, and why.

Ultimately, it’s a bit of a mixed bag – Fischer’s world is great to inhabit when you’re nodding in recognition, but breaks down startlingly quickly once you hit a section that you aren’t enthusiastic about. Perversely, it’s Fischer’s wide affection – the same that made the book possible – that also works against it. Undoubtedly, any geek will find something here to agree with, but even within that sphere it’s highly specialised – and if you’re not into cult beforehand, you can forget it entirely.

Wiffle Lever To Full is out now

22nd December 2008

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3 out of 5