Monday, November 12, 2012

Z is for Zombies of the Gene Pool

In 1987, Sharyn McCrumb, best known for her series of Ballad novels, published a parody of a sci fi and fantasy convention, Bimbos of the Death Sun. Which I reviewed here. As I discussed in my review of the earlier book, this novel was a departure for McCrumb, although I do believe her earlier novels had more humor than her more recent works. I may be revealing my ignorance here. I have not read many books by McCrumb.

Five years later, McCrumb published a sequel to Bimbos of the Death Sun. This book is Zombies of the Gene Pool. Although the stories are definitely linked with the same two protagonists, Dr. James O. Mega and Marion, his girlfriend, and the other characters are a part of the sci fi community, the books are very different. There is still a lot of humor in the second novel, but the topics are handled in a more serious way.

This time the action is set mainly in Tennessee, near a fictional town called Wall Hollow. the original town of Wall Hollow was covered by a lake created by the Watauga Dam, built by the TVA to prevent flooding. (That part really happened; the real town was Butler, Tennessee.)

In 1954, a group of sci fi fans (self-named the Lanthanides) lived together on a farm near Wall Hollow. Per the book, the "lanthanides are the rare-earth series of elements." Most of them were aspiring authors, and they buried a time capsule which contained a short story by each person in the group, plus other artifacts. When the town is covered by a lake, the time capsule is also covered. Thirty five years later, the time this story is set, the lake is going to be drained to allow repairs to the dam, and the group have a chance to recover their time capsule. By this time, some of the group are very famous and wealthy; others are still fans, still writing fanzines; and others have moved on to other pursuits.

The group plans a reunion to dig up the time capsule, and that is what this story is about. James and Marion end up being a part of this group. James (Jay Omega is his pen name) and Marion are both professors at a college in their respective disciplines, Engineering and English. A colleague in the English department is one of the Lanthanides group, and invites them to come along. There is an explanation for this, but it is pretty tenuous.

In my opinion, the mystery plot in the first book, Bimbos, was not much of a mystery. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the book overall, except possibly the extended scene where the murderer is exposed.  

Zombies is also weak in that area. The death does not happen until halfway into the book, and even then it is not clear whether it is murder or not. Then our amateur detective rushes about to find clues, some of them via computers and bulletin boards. And the identity of the murderer was not particularly surprising, although I cannot say I guessed it ahead of time. But, again, this did not detract from the enjoyment of the book.

There is a lot of fun in this book. The characterization in this novel is much improved over the first in the series. There is an old writer, very successful, who is losing his memory and his abilities, and is accompanied by a young companion (and fan) who cares for him. There is another successful member, at least in terms of money and fame, Ruben Mystral, nicknamed "Bunzie." The descriptions of his inner dialogs between the part of him that wants to be the same as he was 35 years ago and the successful, pragmatic business man are priceless. And many others.

I liked this book and I liked it better than Bimbos of the Death Sun. Neither is great fiction, but they both have a lot to offer. My son, who reads more sci fi and fantasy books than he reads mysteries, read both books, once years ago and then again, recently. I was interested to find that he liked Bimbos better, of the two.

This author has a very interesting website, but she does not mention the two Jay Omega mysteries other than in a bibliography of her full works. Her site focuses mostly on the Ballad novels; see her bio page for a lot of background. It appears that all of her books are set in the South and many feature the Appalachian region. I have read the first book in the Ballad series. However, I did not find it compelling enough to rush to read the rest of them. I have a few of the Ballad series and I will give that series another try. The Elizabeth MacPherson series appeals to me. She is a forensic anthropologist later on in the series. I have a few of those also, which I will try. I would love to hear any comments or opinions of her other series.

This book is my pick for the 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet for the letter Z. Our last letter. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise for other entries for this letter. 


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I have yet to try McCrumb but I plan to get round to her in 2013 hopefully, though I suspect this won;t be the series I start with (though the title is perfect for Kerrie's meme!). Thanks TracyK.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - What an interesting book - a parody of sci-fi that also contains some mystery and humour! Both this one and the first one sound as though they'd be enjoyable, fun reads even if the mystery part isn't developed in depth.

Scott said...

What a neat idea.