Literature: Bimbos of the Death Sun

Award-winning 1988 Whodunit by Sharyn McCrumb which combines a serious murder mystery with the scariest world of all — fandom.

James Owen Mega is just an ordinary guy, a professor of electrical engineering at Virginia Tech. What very few people realize is that he is also Jay Omega, one-time science fiction author — and that's exactly how Jay wants it. His novel was a serious, hard SF story, but by the time the second-rate publishing house got through with it, it was saddled with a Frank Frazetta-esque cover and the title Bimbos of the Death Sun. Though he attempts to bury his Old Shame, his girlfriend Marion Farley, the college's assistant professor of English, books him as a guest at Rubicon, a local SF convention. There, they meet the onerous Appin Dungannon, author of a Conan-like series of novels and owner of an incredibly short fuse and colossal ego. Some time between the costume contest and the celebrity Dungeons & Dragons game, however, Dungannon is murdered, and Jay and Marion do a little investigating of their own.

Five years later, McCrumb wrote a sequel, Zombies of the Gene Pool. It has Jay and Marion learn that one of their fellow professors is a member of the Lanthanides, a group of SF fans who fancied themselves up-and-coming legends and buried a time capsule before parting ways in the late 1950s. They accompany him to the reunion/opening of the capsule, where the Lanthanides' prodigal son, embittered former fan Pat Malone, has apparently come Back from the Dead and threatens to expose devastating secrets about his former friends. Malone is murdered that night, and once again Jay and Marion attempt to investigate.

These novels contain examples of...

  • Ascended Fanboy: Several of the Lanthanides went on to become famous.
  • Asshole Victim: Both of the victims are portrayed as arrogant jerks, but both get little moments that make them look slightly more sympathetic.
  • Barbarian Hero: This, and pretty much every other trope that applies to Conan the Barbarian, applies to Dungannon's Tratyn Runewind series.
  • Back from the Dead: Pat Malone in Zombies, until he reveals the real reason (see Faking the Dead, below).
  • Beautiful All Along: Marion was chubby in her fandom days, but started exercising and taking more care in her appearance. When she first met Jay, he was similarly afflicted (though weedy rather than chubby), and with her help he turned into quite the dish himself.
  • Becoming the Mask: In Zombies, Professor Erik Giles is actually Peter Deddingfield and vice versa; the two switched names decades ago because each had something the other wanted. "Giles"/Deddingfield ended up murdering Malone because he feared that the ruse would be revealed and he would be discredited.
    • The victim himself also had a case of this: his real name was Richard Spivey and he had been in the same mental hospital as one of the ex-Lanthanides. Apparently he began to believe the ex-Lanthanides' reminiscences were his own.
  • Berserk Button: Appin Dungannon despises fans of his Runewind novels already, but Heaven help you if he catches you wearing a costume of Runewind...
  • Big Name Fan:invoked Monk Malone in the first book. Con co-founder Diefenbaker actually describes him thus when Jay asks what he did to earn such adulation.
    "He's a fan. And he's very good at it."
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Uber-fan Clifford Morgan is only really happy when he's at conventions, cosplaying Tratyn Runewind and making use of his encyclopedic knowledge of the series. McCrumb's narration points out that when he's working his day job, customers sometimes catch him muttering under his breath in the style of speech used by the novels and assume he's an unassimilated immigrant.
  • Collective Identity: Bimbos has Big Name Fan Chip Livingstone, eventually revealed to be a Pen Name shared by six or seven people (including a couple of the con's organizers). When the police detective says that Livingstone is the prime suspect in Dungannon's murder, the men behind the name publicly drop the masquerade because they don't want to hinder the investigation.
  • Contemptible Cover: In addition to the title, Jay's novel is saddled with one of these. To McCrumb's chagrin, so was hers.
  • Cosplay: Bimbos has a costume contest; other than Clifford Morgan incurring Dungannon's wrath by appearing in Runewind costume, we get a Klingon with stage fright and a young girl in a really nice Dragonrider costume, with a handmade plush dragon. But since Dungannon is judging, the prize goes to a Goodwill Galadriel with huge breastsnote .
  • Clueless Mystery: Zombies to some extent, as the motive for the murder (see the above spoiler) isn't revealed until The Summation.
  • Creator Backlash: invoked Dungannon writes every Runewind novel with an "extra" chapter in which the hero is killed or humiliated (usually both), which his editors remove before publishing; the murder occurred because a crazy fan broke into his room, read the chapter, and acted to "save" the fictional hero from an ignoble death.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A minor character in Bimbos is a "squatter" who doesn't say much throughout the novel, but gets in a couple of good zings, usually when it's just him and one other person in the room; the narration notes that you got a lot more out of him when he was alone.
  • Deep South: Subverted in Zombies; Jay thinks he and Marion are in this kind of restaurant, and even gets harassed by a big redneck-looking man...only for Marion to reveal him as a fellow literature professor, who explains to Jay that the locals are tired of being treated like Deliverance was a documentary.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Happens a lot in reference to the Lanthanides in Zombies. One scene in particular has Erik Giles reminiscing about a local gas station that had a bear cub in a cage as a tourist attraction, and how he and the other kids would give it bottles of chocolate soda. Marion quietly remarks that if those were the "good old days", she's glad to have missed them.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In-universe example: During the celebrity D&D game, Jay hits Tratyn Runewind with a number of minor indignities before having him get curbstomped by a Viking warrior, who even wields the Evil Counterpart to Runewind's sword (which gets shattered in the fight). He did this deliberately because he suspected Runewind fanboy Clifford Morgan of being the murderer and figured it would be the best way to rattle the young man.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Deserves special mention since a game of it is integral to solving the murder in Bimbos.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Every member of the Lanthanides is a suspect in Malone's murder in Zombies.
  • Fair Play Whodunit: Bimbos.
  • Faking the Dead: Zombies mentions the fandom concept of GAFIA-ting, "Getting Away From It All"; Malone says that he did this when he turns up at the Lanthanides reunion. Furthermore, the very end of Zombies implies that the real Malone is still alive and gave Jay a fake obituary when Jay is trying to identify who the "Malone" who showed up at the reunion really was.
  • Famous Last Words: Dungannon's provide a critical clue to his killer's identity: "Young man, that is an out-of-period weapon."
  • Fan Disillusionment: Dungannon goes out of his way to engender this in his fans; in Zombies, Pat Malone suffered this and tried to open peoples' eyes with his manifesto/farewell novel, The Last Fandango.
    • Zombies has another strange example, with Brendan Surn's assistant. She loved his novels and sought him out in hopes of finding an intellectual equal, but all she discovered was an old man with Alzheimer's who needed help. She discusses this with Angela Arbothnote , who had a similar experience when she was younger.
  • Fur Bikini: Worn by the woman on the cover of Jay's book.
  • Gold Digger: Brenda Lindenfeld, a minor character in Bimbos is an overweight woman who doesn't want to enter the "real world" and hopes to use the promise of sex to land a successful husband so she can continue her hobby instead of having to attempt to get a job (for minimum wage, out of sight of the public). Unusually for the trope, she's neither a villain nor particularly unsympathetic - as the book points out, she doesn't actually have that many other options in life.
  • I Am Not Spock: invoked Appin Dungannon really doesn't like being associated with the Tratyn Runewind series; he'd much rather become a more serious fantasy author, but is firmly ensconced in the Sci-Fi Ghetto, and he certainly doesn't help his case by cranking out more Runewind novels to pay the bills.
    • He actually has written the serious fantasy novel, but no publisher wants to take it; the fans want Runewind.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: When the killer is exposed in Bimbos, they attempts to kill Jay, only to end up accidentally electrocuting himself by stabbing a monitor with a sword. In Zombies, "Erik" takes a lethal combination of alcohol and medicine when The Summation makes it obvious that Jay and Marion are onto him, only revealing the fact after his Motive Rant.
  • Killer Game Master: Jay becomes one to ferret out the killer in Bimbos; his suspicions are confirmed when he kills Tratyn Runewind in a terrible way, which causes fanboy Clifford Morgan to go berserk and spill the beans.
  • Man Child: One of the Lanthanides never gave up on the fandom despite growing up, still publishing a mimeographed fanzine in addition to being a grade school teacher.
  • Meaningful Name: Jay chose his pen name because of the significance of — "jay-omega" — in electrical engineering.
  • Mistaken for Sexist: Jay is afraid this will happen if anyone learns about his novel; Marion (who is actually feminist) made absolutely certain that it wasn't demeaningnote , but that's little reassurance for the man who wrote a book called "Bimbos of the Death Sun" with a Frank Frazetta-wannabe cover.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: The eponymous Bimbos is hard SF based on real-world phenomenae, despite what the lurid title and cover would have you believe.
  • Money, Dear Boy: invoked Appin Dungannon's reason for still writing Runewind novels long after he got sick of the character.
  • Most Writers Are Male: In Bimbos, Marion offers to review the entries in the convention's creative writing contest. She ends up setting aside a pile of stories whose authors she wants to personally hunt down and beat senseless, mostly for writing trashy sex scenes or otherwise treating women as objects.
  • Motive Rant: Done in both novels; considerably more sympathetic in Zombies than Bimbos.
  • Munchkin/Troll: Bimbos has a red herring sequence where somebody shouts about a murder. It turns out that a couple was getting their D&D characters married when another player killed the groom and used a shapeshifting amulet to impersonate him at the ceremony. He then tells them (in so many words) to suck it up. The erstwhile groom was ready to punch his lights out, and it's hard to blame him.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Appin Dungannon. Short stature, shorter fuse, ego to make up for both, and a Dirty Old Man. Remind you of somebody?note 
      • McCrumb also wrote in the foreword to a later edition of Bimbos that she could tell which writers were on the outs with fandom based on who fans thought Dungannon was supposed to be.
    • One of the Lanthanides is a stand-in for Richard Sharpe Shaver, writing incredible horror stories but claiming it wasn't fiction and spending the rest of his life in an asylum.
  • Old Shame: invoked Jay views his novel this very much like one due to the treatment it got from the publishers (not to mention the backlash he imagines would come if word got out that he was the author). Subverted in that the shame is not old: Jay's appearance at the convention is meant to promote the book's first edition.
    • In Zombies, Malone threatens to reveal the skeletons in the Lanthanides' closets unless they buy his silence, which leads to the entire group being suspects in Malone's murder. To a lesser extent, Erik Giles shows some embarassment at his own past as a Lanthanide.
  • Pay Asshole Unto Asshole: Dungannon's Pet the Dog moment comes during an autograph session, where one con-goer comes up to his table with multiple books; Dungannon points out how inconsiderate this is, but the guy just responds "They'll be worth a lot when you're dead someday." Dungannon signs the books...and a few minutes later the fan rages because he signed with J. R. R. Tolkien's name, ruining the books' value.
  • Pet the Dog: Malone gets a brief one-on-one conversation with Jay, which paints his lashing out at the sci-fi community as "growing up" and pointing out the hypocrisy of it all rather than being a spiteful Take That.
    • Dungannon gets a small one himself; during an autograph session, a fan comes to the table with a large stack of books, and Dungannon points out how inconsiderate this is towards the people waiting in line. Then he signs all of the rude fan's books...with J. R. R. Tolkien's name, ruining them.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Plays a major role in the end of Zombies: Marion points out the similarities between various stories written by the Lanthanides; Reuben Mistral brushes it off by saying they lived out of each others' pockets in those days and were bound to have hung onto a few ideas from the old times. But then Marion reveals the real point, namely that Erik Giles' writing style is nothing like his supposed Pen Name C.A. Stormcock's, but Stormcock's is very similar to the late Peter Deddingfield's writing...
  • Pun: In Bimbos, the narration mentions an animated adaptation of the Runewind novels called Dungannon's Dragons.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: In the closing chapter of Bimbos, the police discuss the killer hiding the murder weapon in a toilet tank and say this is probably the case; a con-goer who overhears the conversation thinks to himself that it was The Godfather.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Appin Dungannon acts like one in Bimbos. Partly a subversion, since Dungannon himself harbors no illusions about himself and his books; he just enjoys being a pain in the butt.
  • Straw Feminist: Averted; Marion is feminist, but is portrayed in a very positive light. She gripes about the horrible treatment of women in sci-fi, but she blames the individual writers for not understanding women instead of condemning the entire male gender.
  • The Summation
  • Take That: Internal example: In Zombies, one of the Lanthanides' time capsule stories is about a "mad wizard" who has sex with a demon. When this is revealed, two of the others get flustered and try to cover up that it's an obvious allegory for their homosexual experimentation in the past.
  • Technology Marches On: The mystery in Bimbos involves a computer, but the detective investigating the case seems to know little to nothing about them (thankfully, one of his subordinates is more savvy).
    • Discussed in-universe as well: Jay and Marion talk about one of the entries for the creative writing contest which, despite being set in the far future, still has paper checks. While Jay says that by that time electronic transactions will be commonplace, Marion is more bothered by the reference to "the cleaning lady".
  • Villainous Breakdown: Clifford Morgan, the murderer in Bimbos, after Jay kills Tratyn Runewind in the D&D game and rubs it in in order to test his theory.
  • White Knighting: In a way, the murder in Bimbos can be seen as an extreme example of this: Clifford Morgan broke into Dungannon's hotel room to sneak a peek at the upcoming Runewind book, only to discover a chapter where Runewind is killed in a gross and humiliating fashion. He deletes the chapter, then returns later to kill Dungannon in order to "save" Runewind by preventing the author from re-writing the chapter in question.
  • You Do Not Have to Say Anything: Said immediately after the Motive Rant in Zombies by a sympathetic party.

Alternative Title(s):

Bimbos Of The Death Sun