Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Dr. James Mega has a problem: he’s been invited to a sci-fi con to promote his new book Bimbos of the Death Sun. The problem is that other than his own story, he doesn’t really know a lot about the genre, or the publishing business, or about the types of people who show up to cons or what they do for entertainment. He just wants to sell a few more copies of his book before his students & co-workers find out his secret pen name. Unfortunately, Mega finds himself plunged into the heart of the con world when popular author & embittered object of fandom Appin Dungannon turns up murdered & the fen lose their collective minds.
Originally lent to me by someone in my writing group, I enjoyed laying around on my couch & just absorbing the story. First, it was curiously pleasing to read about an event that was still very regional & struggling to figure out how to get through an entire weekend of programming. In 2016, many cons (Comic-con, DragonCon, the PAXs) have become mainstream, huge-ticket, hype machines that attract insane crowds. It was nice for once to read about a con tucked away in the mountains of my home state with people coming from Annandale, Reston, & Richmond. And while certain specific technological elements have not aged well, McCrumb’s book tries to place much of the focus on the characters & their specific hierarchies & rituals. Having attended a con myself, there was still a lot that rang true about people whose status as Big Name Fans are almost jobs unto themselves, filksingers (equal to general geek-culture musicians nowadays), & room parties. There were also a number of moments that made me curious about what McCrumb thinks of the current con scene & other related niche activities. At one point, Mega’s girlfriend (& dueteragonist) Marion laments that the time, effort, & needlework that goes into some of the costumes that are only worn for a few times. (Compared to today, where many cosplay artists are venerated for their work & where patterns & fabrics can be bought just as easily at the fabric store.) At another point, Marion comforts a girl traumatized during a D&D session because her character in-game was deceived into marrying someone wearing the guise of her true love even though she-the-player knew what was going on. (Um, avatar rape anyone?) As for filksinging, come on–I think you can draw a pretty direct line from there to Jonathan Coulton & chiptune.
That’s not to say that Bimbos is a perfect package. There are some really mean depictions of the fen & I can see that perhaps the author is making the point that even unpopular groups have their jerks & undesirables. But, Marion, who sometimes seems to be a stand-in for the author herself, gives a conflicted perspective. Sometimes she navigates the groups like a pro & corrects any accidental cruelty on James’s part; other times she bites her tongue from telling the other con-goers, “Oh grow up. Really children. . .” And, yes, all of the technology mentioned in the novel is old, outdated, & seemingly silly but since I was already enjoying the story more than being frustrated by it, I was willing to do a mental search-and-replace while reading, substituting an obstinate hard drive with a locked smartphone. (The replacement actually works, especially considering the main police investigator is an older cranky man who curses the vagaries of electronics.)
Overall, a fun read & still somewhat relevant for explaining the intense societies of geeky subcultures. Recommended for those who like to laugh at their own adopted scene.
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