Sharyn McCrumb, Bimbos of the Death Sun (TSR Books, 1988; Ballantine Books, 1997)
Sharyn McCrumb, Zombies of the Gene Pool (Ballantine Books, 1992; 1996)

Nowhere on her Web site does novelist Sharyn McCrumb mention her Edgar Allan Poe Award, the most coveted award in the mystery genre and something that most winners would be shouting from the rooftops. One can only assume that this is because the novel for which she won goes by the title Bimbos of the Death Sun. Perhaps she would simply prefer that we forgot all about it.

But the fact is that she not only wrote Bimbos of the Death Sun, but also its sequel, Zombies of the Gene Pool, both starring electrical-engineer/science-fiction-author Jay Omega. Both novels are terrific reads and, as a bonus, showcase something missing from McCrumb's more literate Ballad novels — McCrumb's quirky sense of humor.

In Bimbos, Omega acquires a station at the local fan con in order to publicize his novel. There he runs into a host of quirky attendees. Most are there to see Appin Dungannon, famous author of the "Tratyn Runewind" series (and a real jerk), so Omega is able to view things pretty much as an outsider. When Dungannon is murdered, it is up to Omega to solve the crime while McCrumb makes what some have termed "mean-spirited" observations about the gaggle of attendees and their respective obsessions.

Bimbos is, in many ways, reminiscent of Isaac Asimov's classic Murder at the ABA, which is only natural as they both take place in similar settings. Still, McCrumb puts her indelible touch on it. If she's not a fan of the speculative fiction genre (and its inhabitants), she's certainly done her research. If her portrayal is not entirely accurate, it's because she has painted with broad strokes for humor's sake.

Zombies of the Gene Pool goes deeper behind the scenes of fandom as Omega is invited (through a colleague) to the thirty-year reunion of the "Lanthanides," once a group of adolescent fanboys, now a varied group of adults in their fifties — some have become successful, some are dead, and a few are still stuck in 1958, if only in their passions.

Zombies contains the style and intent that McCrumb's modern fans will likely recognize. It's a mystery, but the corpse doesn't show up 'til two-thirds of the way through the book, and isn't labeled as murdered until thirty pages before the end. The main body of the novel is taken up with the relationships of these people and their inner circles, and it feels very different from its predecessor.

Not a very good "mystery" — like her most recent books — I am still inclined to say that it is the better novel. Bimbos, on the other hand, holds fast to the conventions of the genre and is therefore also the more light and pleasant of the two.

The Jay Omega books aren't about to change the world, but they are a lot of fun to read. Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool should be read by McCrumb's current fans as a way of investigating the beginnings of a remarkable career. And to bug the heck out of her.

[Craig Clarke]