Wednesday, July 07, 2004
"You Got Your SciFi in My Mystery!"
Scifi mysteries are the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of literature. (One of the pleasures of having a blog is being able to write sentences like that.) By saying that, I mean that each is such a recognized genre in itself that to combine the two seems a little shocking at first - too much of a good thing? Or, for those who like one genre but not the other, why spoil my good thing with this other stuff? (I admit I've never been that much of a scifi fan.) Nevertheless, I recently have had the good fortune to come across three books that I can recommend for summer reading which fall into this category.
The first two books, Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool, are by Sharyn McCrumb. She has written many other mysteries which don't involve scifi, but these two deal with the adventures of college professor Dr. James Owen Mega, aka novelist Jay Omega. Dr. Mega wrote a solid scifi novel and had the misfortune to sign with a publisher who slapped the lurid title "Bimbos of the Death Sun" on it, hoping it would increase sales. Half the fun of these books comes from watching Mega cringe every time the title of the book comes up. Interestingly, McCrumb likes to focus on the culture of scifi fandom - in the first book there's a murder at a fan convention; in the second, one of a group of scifi writers is murdered at an authors' reunion. Apparently "Bimbos" has acquired a cultlike status among scifi fans and has been used by actors attending conventions as a sort of orientation tool! It's straight-out funny, "Zombies" somewhat less so, but both are worth reading.
My third recommendation is definitely scifi, albeit filtered through Raymond Chandler's noir sensibility: Gun, With Occasional Music. It's also a lot darker than the first two, happy ending definitely not included. At the beginning of the book, author Jonathan Lethem quotes Chandler stating that a suspect was "as easy to spot as a kangaroo in a dinner jacket": it's clear that this line gave him the idea for the book. It's set in Oakland sometime after 2008. The printed word has been outlawed. Everyone's hooked on a drug called "make" (you snort it), including the detective narrator. The population is now made up not only of humans but genetically modified animals with human intelligence and the capacity for speech. We meet a sheep, a kitten, an ape, and yes, a kangaroo. The scenes involving the detective interacting with the cops (now called Inquisitors) are straight out of Chandler. Strange, nightmarish, and very good.