Sharyn McCrumb: fandom mysteries

While most of the crime novels set from the 1980s onward can easily be classed as “approximately present”, and it doesn´t really make much of a difference whether the year is 1983, 1993 or 2003, I had a bit of a hard time ticking this category box for Sharyn McCrumb´s two Jay Omega mysteries, set in the science fiction and fantasy fandom of the 1980s. So much has changed in this particular scene since then, they almost seem to belong to the historical mysteries rather to the contemporaries now.

At the same time, that is one part of what makes these mysteries such a fascinating read. They are a bit like a time capsule, a glimpse into fandom twenty-five years ago; the time of mimeographed fanzines, fans writing to each other by snail mail, the very early stages of computer games and internet. Things that have changed and things that have stayed the same.

Bimbos of the Death Sun (1988)

This book introduces James Owens Mega, an electrical engineering teacher at Virginia Tech and, under the pseudonym of “Jay Omega”, author of the little-known sci fi novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun”. As Jay, he is invited to be one of the guests of honor of a local science fiction convention – not only his first event of the kind, but also his first contact with the world of sci fi and fantasy fandom. Fortunately, his girl friend Marion, professor of Eng. Lit., used to be an active fan herself and can help him find his way around a little so the culture shock is not too severe.

The first part of the novel accompanies Jay and Marion having a look around the convention, getting to know a few people – organizers, convention staff, big name fans and other guests, among Appin Dungannon, an author of fantasy novels and as famous as unpleasant. When Dungannon is found dead in his hotel room, pretty much every convention attendee had a motive. It is up to Jay and Marion to work out who had the means and opportunity and lure the killer into a trap.

The  book won the 1988 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Original Paperback Mystery. It is a delightful read. It is rumored that Appin Dungannon was based on Harlan Ellison – who was also the model for Isaac Asimov´s Darius Just in “Murder at the APA” – and has a reputation for being, let´s say, a difficult character.

Zombies of the Gene Pool (1993)

When Marion accidentally bumps intoErik,  a colleague at the English Department and they mix up books, she discovers that said colleague is (under a pseudonym) in fact the author of a well-known science fiction novel, whose identity has been a puzzle for science fiction fans for decades. 

30 years ago, Erik used to be a member of a group called the Lanthanides – a group of big name fans, some fledgling authors, some fanzine publishers – who were famous for living together on a farm in Tennessee, and who had, on one special occasion, buried a time capsule on the grounds.

Time has gone by, and some of the Lanthanides have become successful authors, others have dropped out of fandom, some have become rich and famous, some are struggling to get by and some are dead by now. The farm has been buried by a reservoir lake long ago. But as the dam needs maintenance, the lake is being drained right now and the grounds are accessible again. So the former Lanthanides have decided to make use of the opportunity and open the time capsule, and Erik invites Marion and Jay to come along for the occasion.

The reunion quickly becomes a media event. But the night before the time capsule is retrieved, the party is crashed by one member of the Lanthanides who has not been invited, simply because he was thought to be dead – a fact which nobody really regretted, and who is now threatening to reveal some unpleasant big and small secrets from the past to the public. Every one of the group has some things that they´d rather leave buried in the past, so it´s no wonder that on the following morning, the man who was not-as-dead-as-everyone-believed is dead again, this time for real.

With the media surrounding the hotel, a scandal is about to erupt. But Marion, who has found the body, has also come across a few strange details, and she and Jay decide to investigate.

While it was okay on the whole, this book was a bit more cynical and not quite as amusing as “Bimbos” – I guess it really makes a difference that while “Bimbos” describes fandom at a particular moment in time (during the convention), in “Zombies” the passing of time is involved, and it drags in the usual musings about life, success and happiness. The view of fandom, especially of active and/or dedicated fans, is rather pessimistic.   

While both books provided a good read, I´d recommend “Bimbos of the Death Sun” over “Zombies” any day.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,