Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bimbos of the Death Sun: Sharyn McCrumb


I have had several books by Sharyn McCrumb in my TBR piles for a long time. I recently read Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is an atypical book for this author.

This novel is a parody of a sci fi and fantasy convention, and focuses on fandom and role playing games.  The two protagonists are an engineering professor (Dr. James O. Mega, pen name Jay Omega)  who has written and published a sci fi novel (also named Bimbos of the Death Sun) and is at the convention to promote his book. His friend Marion, who is a professor in the English department, accompanies him to the the convention. I have no idea how realistic the pictures of fandom are, but it is a very entertaining novel, and it pokes light-hearted fun at a lot of groups. Fanatical sci fi fans, fans who attend conventions, fanzines, even authors, publishers and academics. Because of the title, and the covers of various editions, and the setting, this novel has a lot of reviews at sites more devoted to sci fi. Some have found it to be entertaining, others are outraged at it.

The title of the book is not at all indicative of the content. It is mocking the tendency, at least at a point in time, to include well-endowed young women in stories in those genres. In the novel, Jay Omega's book is serious science fiction, but his publisher has forced the title on the book to sell more copies.

One theme was very interesting to me: the picture of loners or outcasts who are attracted to a group because they find a place that they feel they can belong. Marion was once a fan and went to such conventions herself and she was a misfit in her youth. She can remember the need to find a group that she could feel comfortable in and a part of. The author pokes fun at the individuals, but also gives us sympathy for them.

The book was published in 1987 and I enjoyed the picture of the state of computing at the time. At that time I was working in Information Technology but was working with programming for minicomputers and wasn't into the home or desktop PC until later. Nevertheless, it was nostalgic in a way.

One negative aspect to this book is that the characterization was sketchy. The only characters portrayed in any depth were the two main characters. And there were a lot of characters to keep up with.

Another question is... how does this work as a mystery? This is a lightweight book, compared to other books the author has written. It is fun and I enjoyed it, but the mystery was not particularly satisfying. Other reviewers have disagreed and felt it was a good mystery.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, for two reasons. It is fun and it is different. And, the novel won the 1988 Edgar Award for "Best Paperback Original", so it can't be too bad. I saw so many different opinions about it on the web. Five years after Bimbos was published, a sequel came out: Zombies of the Gene Pool. I will follow up later with a review of that book.

In the introduction to this book in the paperback edition (published in 1997) I read, McCrumb explains how she came to write such an unusual novel... for her. To paraphrase, the book started out as a short story, a spoof with the same title as this book, which was just intended as a joke. Later she read the short story for a group and it came to a publisher's attention... and they wanted to publish it (expanded into a book).

From the Author's Note: "Bimbos of the Death Sun was intended to be an observation of the culture of fandom, and a gentle warning. Science fiction writers build castles in the air; the fans move into them; and the publishers collect the rent. It's a nice place to visit, but please don't try to live there."


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