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Literature / Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson

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Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson is a series of humorous fantasy short-stories by George Alec Effinger, which tell the adventures of a young Jewish American Princess from a prep school who discovers she can visit other worlds and is surprisingly good with a sword. The first eight stories were collected in an anthology of the same name. Three later stories remain un-anthologized.

In the first story, Maureen "Muffy" Birnbaum finds herself mysteriously transported to Mars—which turns out to be exactly as described by Edgar Rice Burroughs. She rescues the hunky Prince Van from some some four-armed giants, and promptly falls in love. Before anything much can happen, though, she abruptly returns to Earth, wearing nothing but a Chain Mail Bikini, where she relates her story to her old school roommate, Elizabeth "Bitsy" Spiegleman, and then mysteriously disappears again.

In later stories, it is revealed that she has the power to travel to other worlds, but cannot properly control her destination. She keeps trying to return to Mars and Prince Van, but ends up instead on other worlds which bear suspicious resemblances to worlds created by other SF writers. Somehow, however, she is always able to return to present-day Earth, usually at a particularly inconvenient time for her former roommate, to whom she continues telling the tales of her adventures.

    Maureen Birnbaum stories 
  • In the collection Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson:
    • "Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum at the Earth's Core"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum on the Art of War"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum After Dark"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum Goes Shoppynge"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum and the Saint Graal"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum at the Looming Awfulness"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum's Lunar Adventure"
  • Uncollected
    • "Maureen Birnbaum on a Hot Tin Roof"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum in the MUD"
    • "Maureen Birnbaum Pokes an Eye Out"

Tropes in these stories:

  • The Ageless: For reasons that are never explained, Maureen does not age at all while off on her adventures. Time passes at the same rate for her as it does back on Earth, but her old friend Bitsy Spiegleman gets older, gets married, and has kids as the series progresses, while Maureen remains a teenager. This is a source of puzzlement to everyone, but Maureen is too busy barbarianing to fret about such details.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Lampshaded repeatedly in the series. Every world Maureen visits is filled with English speakers. Maureen is confused by this, but no one has any explanation.
  • Chainmail Bikini: Of course Maureen simply has to wear a skimpy leather-and-gold bikini once she embarks on a career as a barbarian swordsperson. What else would you wear? Of course, it's a little embarrassing when she returns to present day Earth for one of her quick visits, but that's a small price to pay.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The stories are all credited "by Bitsy Spiegleman, as told to George Alec Effinger". Bitsy is supposedly an old school chum of Maureen, who relays her tales to her friend whenever she gets a brief chance to visit our Earth again. Bitsy, in her turn is relaying the stories to Effinger, since he's a professional writer.
  • Eldritch Abomination: "Maureen Birnbaum at the Looming Awfulness", which is based on the Cthulhu Mythos, has a couple: the slimy animated tree-like creature known as the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath, and a nameless horror which invades the mind of Maureen's friend's roommate and causes him to emit dangerous paisleys. (Yes. Dangerous paisleys.)
  • Framing Device: Each of the stories of Maureen's adventures has a framing story where Maureen reappears on Earth to visit her old friend Bitsy Speigleman, and, usually, wreaks some havoc on poor Bitsy's life, before settling down to tell her story to Bitsy.
  • Hollow World: In "Maureen Birnbaum at the Earth's Core", Maureen travels to a world inside the Earth, where she is captured by giant white apes who make her their priestess.
  • I Call It "Vera": Maureen names her sword Old Betsy, "because that's what Davy Crockett called his rifle or something."
  • Interrupted Intimacy: In one of the framing stories, Maureen appears to tell of her latest adventure to her old friend Bitsy. Bitsy, however, has just gotten married, and is the bathroom getting ready for her wedding night. The chaos of Maureen's abrupt arrival prevents anything from happening that night.
  • Jewish American Princess: Maureen started as one before she discovered the Way of the Barbarian Warrior. And she still makes sure she has daddy's credit card with her at all times. Her former roommate and best friend Bitsy Spiegleman remains one, going on to marry a rich doctor and moving to a nice neighborhood to raise a child named Malachi Bret Spiegleman-Fein.
  • Namedar: Lampshaded in one story which posits (in a narrated aside) that the Japanese government keeps a list of names to apply to new kaiju, as they turn up, just like weather bureaus keep for hurricanes.
  • Purple Prose: Lampshaded in "Maureen Birnbaum at the Looming Awfulness" (a story based on the Cthulhu Mythos), when Maureen remarks, "Bitsy, have you noticed that my narrative style has become, like, you know, dated, clumsy, and ornate? That I'm not talking in the airy colloquial phrases for which I'm justly celebrated? That is one of the insidious effects of my brush with...the horror."
  • Prince Charming: Prince Van of Mars more-or-less fills this role, although it's Maureen who initially rescues him, rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, she quickly falls in love with him, and, after her return to Earth, spends the rest of her time trying to return to Mars to be with him. He's handsome and noble and hunky, and, well, y'know, a prince. What more could a girl want?
  • Sapient Steed: The telepathic horse Maureen rides in "Maureen Birnbaum on the Art of War" (based on the Horseclans series). Because she can communicate with it, she names it Mister Ed.
  • Science Hero: Rod Marquand, a student who Maureen first encounters at the Earth's Core is a stereotypical example. He's an inventor who fights crime as a costumed superhero, and has what he calls a "subterrene"—it's like a submarine, except it travels through earth rather than water.