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Literature / Bimbos of the Death Sun

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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 has apparently come Back from the Dead and threatens to expose devastating secrets about his former friends. He is murdered that night, and once again Jay and Marion attempt to investigate.

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    Shared Tropes 
  • An Aesop: While both books are generally focused on their respective mysteries, there's an element of "Everything in moderation" woven into the text. McCrumb doesn't mock or condemn people with geeky interests — in fact, most of them are presented in a positive light, not the least of which are the protagonists Jay and Marion — but shows that everyone needs to recognize at what point you're taking things too far and need to step back. Clifford Morgan, the obsessive Tratyn Runewind fanboy, takes his fandom so far that he murders the author of his beloved novels out of an insane, misguided belief that he needed to "protect" Runewind from him.
  • Asshole Victim: Both of the victims are portrayed as arrogant jerks, but both get little moments that make them look slightly more sympathetic; more so in Zombies, where it turns out the man was quite likely suffering from mental illness.
  • 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.
  • Fur Bikini: The woman on the cover of Jay's book is noted to wear a rather skimpy fur ensemble.
  • Meaningful Name: Jay chose his pen name because of the significance of — "jay-omega" — in electrical engineering.
  • Mistaken for Misogynist: Jay is afraid that 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. When Jay takes over the celebrity D&D game following Dungannon's murder, it's mentioned that one of the players dropped out because she didn't want anything to do with the author of "Bimbos of the Death Sun"... but the narration also remarks that she's trying to get her own book published and thought such an association would hurt her chances, so she comes off looking fairly silly.

    Bimbos of the Death Sun 
  • The Baby Trap: Brenda contemplates deliberately getting pregnant from a guy she meets at the con when she learns that he's a computer engineering major, since that's usually a good ticket to well-paying jobs.
  • Barbarian Hero: Tratyn Runewind is a parody of this trope, being a generic Conan the Barbarian copy in the form of a tall, strapping, broadsword-swinging hero traipsing around a fictionalized version of early Medieval Europe.
  • Catchphrase: The lead investigator, who's never seen anything remotely like a sci-fi con before, can't help but exclaim "I love this case!" each time yet another example of fan-weirdness is brought to his attention.
  • 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: Chip Livingstone is 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.
  • Cosplay: Rubicon includes 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. However, since Dungannon is judging, the prize goes to a Goodwill Galadriel whose only apparent talent is being hot note . Additionally, Marion spends a good portion of the book dressed as Emma Peel.
  • 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 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.
  • Deleted Scene: In-universe, Dungannon's publisher reveals that, at the end of each book, he would write a chapter or two where Tratyn Runewind is killed and/or humiliated, in order to vent his frustrations about being chained to the series; these chapters would always be removed before the book saw print. However, a psycho fan broke into Dungannon's room and found the chapter without realizing the context, which led to the murder.
  • Didn't Think This Through: After the killer gives his Motive Rant during the climax, Jay points out that they really weren't thinking clearly when they did so: Clifford Morgan claims that he killed Dungannon in order to "save" Tratyn Runewind, after seeing a chapter in the next novel where Runewind dies. However, Jay observes that without Dungannon, there won't be any more Runewind novels; the character is truly "dead", and there's nobody to blame for it but Morgan himself. The realization causes him to charge Jay in a blind fury, which results in his death.
  • 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.
  • Fan Disillusionment: Dungannon goes out of his way to engender this in his fans, whom he constantly insults, demeans and sometimes physically attacks.
  • Fandom VIP:invoked Monk Malone is a big-name fan, the kind who knows all the filk songs, attends all the conventions, and is only slightly less a big deal in fandom circles than the authors. 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."
  • Foreshadowing: In the Dungeons and Dragons game near the end, Tratyn Runewind spots a woman washing bloody clothes in a river; one of the players, who's versed in Scottish folklore, identifies the woman as a bean nighe, who are seen as omens of death. The fact that Runewind is the only person who can see her worries the other players. They had good reason to be worried, since Jay fully intended on killing Runewind.
  • Gold Digger: Brenda Lindenfeld, a minor character, 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 that 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.
  • Hidden Depths: Dungannon is actually quite knowledgeable when it comes to Celtic mythology and fantasy; he works references into the Runewind books but they tend to go unnoticed by the fans. During the guest dinner, he and Marion converse briefly about the subject; she's mildly disturbed that she actually enjoyed the experience, even if it was mostly for the opportunity to deflate his ego.
  • 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 a serious fantasy novel, but no publisher wants to take it; the fans want Runewind.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Marion teases Jay for having a radio in his refrigerator. Jay explains that the radio has a problem that only shows up intermittently when it warms up; by chilling it, he's trying to make the problem permanent so he can fix it. The person to whom they're speaking admits that Jay's explanation makes sense... but then Marion teases him about having "lemons old enough to vote" in the fridge too (Jay shrugs and admits "I eat out a lot").
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: When the killer is exposed, they attempt to kill Jay, only to end up accidentally electrocuting themselves by stabbing a monitor with a sword.
  • Killer Game Master: Jay becomes one to ferret out the killer; 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.
  • Mistaken for Junkie: When Dungannon first arrives at the con he demands "Smarties and Yorkies", which makes one of the con's staff worry that these are slang names for drugs. His Canadian fellow staffer explains that they're British candy.
  • 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.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Besides the obvious fact that the protagonist is a writer, the winner of the writing contest turns out to be an English teacher who entered because there was no rule against professional writers.
  • Motive Rant: Clifford Morgan admits to killing Dungannon, explaining that he broke into the author's hotel room to get a sneak peek at the next Runewind novel, only to discover a chapter where the barbarian is humiliated and killed. He deleted the chapter, but realized that Dungannon could always rewrite it, so he decided to murder the author in order to "save" the hero.
  • Muggles: The text occasionally gives the perspective of Donnie McRory, a Scottish folksinger who just happens to be staying at the same hotel as the convention. He mostly stays out of it, although he ends up getting roped into playing Scotty at the Star Trek wedding and joins in on the filk singing at one point.
  • 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.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: During an autograph session, 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." invoked 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: Dungannon gets a small one: 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.
  • The Prima Donna: Appin Dungannon, although, while he does possess an over-inflated ego, he's more interested in screwing with people because it's one of the few things that brings him joy. At the start of Bimbos he sends the con staff on a wild goose chase by demanding that they find him British candy on short notice, while it's pretty clear that he even didn't want the candy in the first place and just wanted to see them sweat.
  • Pun: The narration mentions an animated adaptation of the Runewind novels called Dungannon's Dragons.
  • Railroading: Done intentionally by Jay in Bimbos, where the celebrity D&D game is set up to kill off Tratyn Runewind in a demeaning and soul-crushing fashion. This has exactly the desired effect, causing loony Runewind fanboy Clifford Morgan to snap and confess to killing Dungannon in order to "save" Runewind from him.
  • Revenge via Storytelling: Played With in Bimbos. A famous writer is found murdered and the heroes, in passing, eventually discover that the writer was completely and utterly fed up with his greatest character, an Expy of Conan the Barbarian, but he kept making the books because it made him rich and famous. to the point that in order to vent his hatred, he always added a (non-canon) epilogue to his stories in which the character died an incredibly brutal and humiliating death and that would be the end of the series, forevermore, which his editor always made sure to remove before going to print. This ends up becoming more important than the heroes expected it to be when it turns out that the killer is a Loony Fan of the character, who snuck into the writer's hotel room, found the unedited finished manuscript of the series' latest book, and decided to "protect" the character when he read the epilogue.
  • Saw It in a Movie Once: In the closing chapter, 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. Partly a subversion, since Dungannon himself harbors no illusions about himself and his books; he just enjoys being a pain in the ass.
  • Technology Marches On:
    • The mystery 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). This also comes up when the detectives want to dust a floppy disc for prints, and Dungannon's publisher is (rightly) worried that doing so will destroy the data on it; Jay suggests making a copy, which seems like a foreign concept to the detective. He does ask if the copy would have the same fingerprints on it, but for the most part he seemed to be joking.
    • 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".
  • Torch the Franchise and Run: A rare In-Universe Invoked Trope, and an important plot point to boot: Dungannon was so fed up with writing Tratyn Runewind stories that he made a little in-joke for himself of always writing an additional epilogue in his novels which Runewind gets an Undignified Death and the series ends (understandably, the editor always removed this epilogue before going to print). This gets him killed by Clifford Morgan trying to "protect" Runewind, and he does not takes it well when Marion points out that murdering Dungannon killed the book series too.
  • Troll:
    • There's 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.
    • Dungannon really loved to be a pain in the ass to everybody he met, including innocent waiters and especially his fandom. That last one indirectly cost him his life.
  • What Is Evil?: When Marion is explaining the concept of Dungeons & Dragons to Detective Ayhan, she mentions that players can be Thieves. He asks if they can also play as Murderers, and she starts to explain that the morality in these games isn't as cut-and-dried before the detective interrupts and says that he gets the idea.

    Zombies of the Gene Pool 
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • 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...
  • Blackmail: Jay threatens to phone up the Lanthanides' old friend Jasmine "Jazzy" Holt if they don't start owning up on the secrets they're hiding that are impeding the murder investigation. It's actually a bluff, since Jay was unable to get Holt's phone number, but it works all the same and is what leads to the revelation that several of the Lanthanides were guilty of statutory rape with Holt back in the day.
  • Clueless Mystery: To some extent, as the motive for the murder (see the above spoiler) isn't revealed until The Summation.
  • Deep South: Subverted; Jay thinks that 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.
  • 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.
  • Fan Disillusionment:
    • Pat Malone suffered this and tried to open peoples' eyes with his manifesto/farewell novel, The Last Fandango.
    • The book has a subtle Aesop about building up unreasonable expectations of creators. Brendan Surn's assistant is a young woman who loved his novels and sought him out in hopes of finding an intellectual equal, only to discover an old man with Alzheimer's who couldn't take care of himself. She discusses this with Angela Arbroath[[note:]]A friend of the Lanthanides and an unofficial member of the group [[/note]] who had a similar experience in her youth and offers to help out.
  • Foreshadowing: There are several moments where various Lanthanides, especially Surn, need to be subtly or (occasionally) not-so-subtly reminded what Erik's name (officially) is, and/or that Peter is dead.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: "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.
  • Literary Allusion Title: C.A. Stormcock's novel is titled The Golden Gain; at the start of Zombies, Marion accidentally ends up with Erik Giles' book of Rudyard Kipling poetry and realizes that he is Stormcock after reading the poem "Mine Sweepers" and seeing the line "Sent up Unity, Claribel, Assyrian, Stormcock, and Golden Gain,” which Giles had highlighted.
  • Manchild: 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:
    • Wall Hollow, Tennessee, was founded by German immigrants, and was originally Valhalla.
    • The Lanthanides' name came from the fact that said elements are known as rare earth metals, and they considered themselves to be rare geniuses. They also started the group in 1957, the Lanthanide series of elements have atomic numbers 57-71.
  • Motive Rant: Erik Giles admits that he's actually Peter Deddingfield, and that the two of them traded identities many years ago because they each had something the other wanted (Giles had a Ph.D, and Deddingfield wanted to get out of the fandom and "go legit"). The other Lanthanides agreed to keep the secret since both men were happier, but when Malone turned up and threatened to expose the group's dirty laundry, "Erik" worried that his entire life would be destroyed.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Malone threatens to reveal the skeletons in the Lanthanides' closets, which leads to the entire group being potential suspects in his subsequent murder. To a lesser extent, Erik Giles shows some embarrassment at his own past as a Lanthanide. Near the end of the book it's revealed that several Lanthanides had drunken sex with a female friend, only to find out later that she was underage. This is naturally something they're not proud of and would rather forget happened.
  • Pet the Dog: Pat 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!.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Plays a major role in the end: Marion points out the similarities between various old 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 in the stories is nothing like his supposed Pen Name C.A. Stormcock's, but it is very similar to the late Peter Deddingfield's writing...
  • Punny Name: One of the Lanthanides was said to have considered writing a story about "the Time Being", a play on the phrase "for the time being".
  • Road Trip Plot: The future Lanthanides planned to make a road trip to an early fan convention, only for their Alleged Car to give out on them partway there.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Brendan Surn, one of the more successful Lanthanides, suffers from an unspecified mental ailment (possibly Alzheimer's), and spends much of the book being vague and distant. He actually gives a major clue referring to Erik Giles as "Peter", his original name, but at the time it's implied to be dementia. Near the end of the book he gets a period of lucidity where he acknowledges his problems, and works out a plan to visit Angela Arbroath so his overworked assistant doesn't have to spend her whole life caring for him.
  • Take That!: Internal example: one of the Lanthanides' time capsule stories is about a "mad wizard" who has sex with a demon. Two of the others get flustered when this is brought up, suggesting that it's an allegory for their homosexual experimentation in the past.
  • Technology Marches On: At one point, Jay logs onto Virginia Tech's message board for help with solving the murder. He types up his first post in all caps and has to be informed of proper netiquette by the sysop, who's one of his students.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Zombies Of The Gene Pool