Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bimbos of the Death Sun

This certainly wins for "funniest title" of any book I've read this year.  Actually, I can't even say the title inside my head without giggling out loud, which makes me seem rather mad (but, as you all know, we are all mad here).  We have a shelf-talker program at my library where staff members pick out favorites and place a special bookmark in them and voila!  Instant display!

My friend Shannon is a geek/nerd like me.  However, she also has vastly more con experience and life experience in general.  I noticed a rather oddly-titled book with her bookmark in it.  "Bimbos .. of the Death ... Sun?" I read.  Obviously, I had to take it.  She told me that it was actually an Edgar Award winner that was set at a con ... in the 1980s.  This book is literally older than me.  Now, some of that shows in the fandoms of the time, and most definitely in the technology, but while I found this to be overall enjoyable, I felt uncomfortable with Sharyn McCrumb's portrayal of women in geekdom.  But first!  A synopsis!


It's con-time at this US hotel, something that utterly flabbergasts a visiting Scottish folk singer.  He finds himself in elevators with elves and Trekkies.  Who ARE these people?  What planet are they from?  More to the point, what planet aren't they from?


It's time for Rubicon to begin, and attendees are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the star of the show, famously irascible author Appin Dungannon, creator of a much-beloved and long-running swords-and-sorcery epic book series.  Con organizers are frantically attempting to cater to Dungannon's every bizarre whim, and in the middle of all of this is a rather bemused Dr. James Mega, professor of electrical engineering.  He's also the author of a new fantasy book called Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is his manuscript of hard sci-fi with a mammary-licious cover.  He is, naturally, mortified, but his girlfriend, Marion, pushes him to just roll with it, sell some books, and be JAY OMEGA, FANTASY AUTHOR for one weekend.

Omega, who speaks the language of ones and zeroes, of floppy discs and top-of-the-line IBM computers (LOLOLOLOL), doesn't get this whole fantasy convention thing at all.  Marion, however, is a professor of folk lore, so she gets where these people are coming from.  She is also the only female character in the entire book who's allowed to be attractive.  But more on that later.

We get a rather cheeky account of What Happens At Cons (or, more precisely, How Cons Worked in the 1980s: hint: think lots and lots and lots of DoD) and the story nips along rather nicely.  The murder doesn't actually happen until quite late in the book, and anyone with one-fourth of a brain will figure it out immediately.

That's why I don't really understand why this won an Edgar Award.  It's amusing, to be sure.  Were the entries in 1987 so bad that they picked this, a murder mystery with no mystery?  Were the committee members hypnotized by the concept of cons, which really didn't enter the public consciousness as legitimate pop culture events until quite recently?  I just don't think it's really Edgar-ish.  Edgar-y?  Whatever.

Since becoming a full-time librarian, I've learned that it is okay--nay, it is totally rockin' awesome--to be a geek!  No shame!  And if people do make fun of you, you can mock them with Doctor Who quotes or something.  Who cares?  I'm definitely not a hard-core member of any particular fandom, and I don't cosplay (mostly because a) I am cheap and b) I can't sew and c) I live in a shoebox), but it's really fun to interact with other geeks and nerds.  Plus, whenever I go to a con, I'm stunned at the level of intricacy put into cosplays.  It's really impressive.  And the best part?  People are, on the whole, really, really nice.  It is kind of like being on another planet.  Nerdelgeuse-5 or something.

That's not to say that cons are all bronies and unicorns.  Lots of cons have had to really crack down on sexual harassment and tell people how to act like humans (but we have to have those rules in a lot of places, so).  Just because you are dressed like Slave Leia does not mean that people can grope you, catcall you, or slut shame you.  And some people do hypersexualize their cosplays, but I find that more amusing than anything.  They can do whatever.

The other cool thing about modern cosplay is that it's much more inclusive of all body types than I expected.  THIS IS AWESOME, people!  I see fans of all shapes and sizes rocking their cosplays or Star Wars t-shirts or whatever and they are totally confident in themselves because they are doing something they love.  The con I go to, C2E2, feels pretty darn body-positive.

And that's where Bimbos of the Death Sun lost me.  Okay, yeah, it was written a longish time ago when people weren't exactly polite about talking about weight, and everyone had to Somersize and do WW and all that jazz in leotard thongs and scrunchie socks.  These were dark times, my friends.  But McCrumb does not let up on the stereotypes.  All the girls who go to cons are either boobtacularly hot (the minority) or sad and fat (the majority).  These sad fat girls, who are generally compared in size to animals like tapirs or elephants (charming!), use cons as a way to have sex with loser nerds.  They are like black widows, stalking unsuspecting nerd-man prey.  The only "cool girl nerd" in the book is Jay's girlfriend, who *used to be* fat and ugly but then GOT HOT.


Similarly, all the dudes there are only conversant in DoD or Klingon and are so desperate to have the sexytimes that they'll do it with anyone.

So, tl; dr it's a funny look at fandom, but has serious issues in the fat-shaming department.  Proceed with caution.

3 comments:

  1. Pamela, you are just too young to remember this kind of con and the people who went to them. I remember them. They were a lot of fun, but we didn't refer to "cosplay" in those days. You had a costume parade, with prizes, and hall costumes. And the hall costumes were often very good, but worn by people who didn't suit them. I think the whole novel is an exaggerated but not inaccurate look at fandom of the time. Even the nonexistent BNF was a real part of fandom. I can remember some.

    You should read one of her other books, I forget the title, but there were a bunch of fans who had written a novel together about twenty years ago and have returned to remove the time capsule before the valley is flooded. The only one who had succeeded as a writer has developed Alzheimer's. It's an interesting book and also has fun with fandom.

    But this one I thoroughly enjoyed.

    As for costuming, if you really want to have a go, you can do the hall costume thing quite easily. I can't sew either, not on a machine, anyway, but once I was shown a very basic pattern for the mediaeval T tunic, I was able to go from there, by hand - and embroidery was something I *could* do. I have won PRIZES for my basic costumes and you can too, if you are willing to put a bit of time, imagination and effort into it.

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    1. You are absolutely right in that I am too young to know this kind of con! It was published the year I was born. Plus, I only started going to cons but recently, so I have a really limited perspective.

      I guess my issue with the presentation of the hall costumes and the ladies who wore them is the strange harping on weight, which is a personal bugaboo. But in the edition I read, McCrumb wrote an intro that I found fascinating. She talked about the process of writing the novel and how it originated, and I never got the vibe that her intention was to mock cons or be malicious.

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  2. Ah, but I vaguely recall that the winner of the costume parade in the novel was a young woman who was attractive but had just bought her dress and combed out her pretty golden hair, and that this was shown as unfair. ;-) It might be nice to see that Intro. I have the original paperback edition, which I bought secondhand. Wonder if it's in the ebook, if any?

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