This book sounded so promising when I found it at the used bookstore. A murder mystery that takes place at a science fiction convention! How fun! However…is there a word for what happens when a roast crosses a line? Oh yeah: mean.
Appin Dungannon is the author of a hugely popular fantasy series about Tratyn Runewind. He’s also obnoxious, demanding, and rude to his fans. When he’s murdered while attending Rubicon as guest of honor, there are lots of suspects.
James Owens Mega (pseudonym Jay Omega, get it?) is an engineering professor who wrote a book about the effects of sunspots on technology, but the publisher called it Bimbos of the Death Sun and slapped a busty babe in a fur bikini on the cover. He’s mortified, and unsure what to do with unexpectedly being labeled a science fiction author. His English professor girlfriend convinces Marion him to accept an invitation to be another guest author at Rubicon. He and Marion are in the thick of things when the murder happens.
Sounds like an okay premise, yes? It would’ve been, except for the author’s depiction of the con and all the attendees. This book was written in 1988, before Comic Con and Marvel and the nerds took over the world. Back then, making fun of the weirdos was fair game, and McCrumb pulls no punches. It’s not like nerds are real people or anything, right? Isn’t it funny how personally they take their little hobbies and things? Some lines that made me twitch:
Marion: “Sophomore computer science majors with bad skin and zero interpersonal skills are always wanting to do theme papers on Tratyn Runewind.”
On a contestant in the con costume contest: “The effect of this medieval artistry would have been pure enchantment, had the ensemble been ten sizes smaller, and had it not been battened on to a fierce-looking redhead who might have outweighed the average calf.” (McCrumb later calls this same contestant a ‘behemoth.’)
Marion again, explaining to Jay how datings amongst nerds works: “Women are at a premium in this hobby, and therefore even the plain ones are prized. That poor creature up there could pick up six guys by Sunday if she chose.”
Jay: “Any six guys?”
Marion: “No, silly. Any six losers. You know, the terminally shy guys who have no idea how to talk to a woman; the runty little nerds that no one else wants; and the fat intellectuals who want to be loved for their minds. She can take her pick of those.”
The winner of the costume contest is described “a simpering little blonde of normal weight.” Normal? You mean not calf- or behemoth-like?
Jay, looking fondly at a sleeping Marion: “Despite the fact that she was a complete rabbit about math and at the mercy of almost any mechanical device, she liked to think that there were no intellectual differences between them.”
It’s not even insightful commentary or anything. It’s lazy, stereotyping, dehumanizing garbage, making fun of people who finally found their tribe. When the police show up to investigate the murder, that’s just one more excuse to look at all the geeks from an outsider’s perspective. At one point, while explaining to the head detective what Dungeons & Dragons is (he scoffs, of course), Marion talks about how thrilled she is that she outgrew her “misfit stage.” So…you’ve been there, and you’re this unsympathetic to a group of people whose only crime is really really enjoying their works of fiction?
McCrumb skewers as many groups as she can: aspiring authors, who get dismissed and laughed at; women who use the gamers rooms as easy pickings because no other girls would be in there; Trekkies; people who like folklore (oh, the horror); people who like computers; etc. They’re all poor, grubby, awkward, clueless, and hopeless.
And yes, okay, maybe I’m taking this a little personally, but geez. The whole book just seemed really mean-spirited. It’s actually two books in one, and I can’t decide if I should read the next included book to see who she pokes fun at this time, or take the damn thing back to the used bookstore from whence it came.