I Found the Fake Geek Girl… 24 Years Ago

Bimbos of the Death Sun

You’ve likely seen at least some mention of the idiotic idea of the fake geek girl, since responses have been going on around the internet since the summer. Although I thought this was merely fanboy paranoia, I just found a classic example of the type.

Let me back up. I’m still unpacking the various boxes of books arising from our move in August. (When you have over a dozen bookcases and need more to hold all the volumes, it’s not a quick process.) Yesterday, I finished all the science fiction and mystery, which included an old favorite of mine, Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s an entertaining little story about a murder at a science fiction convention. The detective winds up being the nice but naive engineering professor who has written a serious, hard science SF novel about sunspots affecting computers and creating gender-linked effects that was tagged by the publisher with the ridiculous title of the book.

There are many many shots taken at fandom and fen, but clearly from a position of knowledge and familiarity. In a different tone, it would be savage. Since it was written in 1988, it’s also pretty funny to read about how confused half the characters are about computers.

Bimbos of the Death Sun

However, I hadn’t remembered that there were only two main female characters. One, the professor’s sort-of girlfriend, is a literature professor who also teaches SF; she’s his guide through the culture and ends up showing him, among many other things, how to run an RPG campaign. She’s described as having “finally reached the stage of accepting herself as both smart and pretty.”

The other, Brenda Lindenfeld, is a fat girl with some costuming skill — she first appears as a pathetic contestant in the costume contest, “a fierce-looking redhead who might have outweighed the average calf” and whose dress would have been pretty if it was “ten sizes smaller”. Her ability is not mentioned as the book goes on, once Brenda latches onto a skinny, obnoxious, virgin nerd. She needs a room to stay in and someone to pay for her meals, and he’s her ticket, even though she finds him boring and unattractive. But once she finds out he’s studying computer science, she’s determined to get pregnant to keep him around so he’ll get her a big-screen TV.

Look at that! It’s a woman hanging around a con just to entrap and exploit guy geeks. Isn’t that what everyone was afraid of? And 24 years ago, to boot! And written by a female author! Only problem is, even this exploitative “femmefan” (as the girls are referred to) gets something out of SF and reads the works on her own, enjoying the escapism that lets her forget how unhappy she is with herself. So she doesn’t even qualify as “fake” all that much.

Don’t worry, the guys in this book don’t come off much better. Their physical appearances aren’t mentioned as often, but it’s pointed out that even the con organizers are janitors and grocery store stockers in the “mundane” world. Everyone in the book, from the popular series writer who hates his books, his character, and the fans (but loves the money) to the fan couple getting married in Star Trek costume, is a stereotype of some kind. Only Marion, the SF teacher, comes off as three-dimensional, although she’s hard on fandom because she’s still embarrassed by the geeky kid she was.


  • OMG Johanna, that brings back some memories! My husband gave me that book when we first met, 23 years ago, and I loved it — it was my introduction to sci-fi fandom. I’m going to dig it out this weekend and re-read it with your comments in mind.

    We have the sequel, too — Zombies of the Gene Pool, IIRC.

  • Yeah, I’m looking forward to rereading the sequel soon, too. If I remember, it’s a parody of First Fandom, so I’m going to be trying to figure out which one is most like Julie Schwartz. :)

  • Ugh, I loathed that book, for the exact reason you mention, Joanna… everyone seems like a one-dimensional stereotype designed to serve the author’s view of fandom, which I found abusive and shrill and parroted without any nuance whatsoever by “Marion” (sorta rhymes with “Sharyn.” That’s why she’s the only character with any depth: SHE’S THE AUTHOR).

    It has been a while since I read it, but it was one of the books that motivated me to make sure I never wrote like that.

    I can’t really see why you’d describe it as one of your favorites if “every character in it is a stereotype of some kind,” unless the sexism in that age of fandom was just so omnipresent, and the silence about it so complete, that anyone who addressed it in any way seemed like Jonathan Swift by comparison to other, more fawning fan portrayers.

    I skimmed the sequel long enough to be fairly certain that it goes even further in its expressions of contempt. So take that how you will, I guess.

  • It’s a favorite because I’d never seen anything like it when I first found it, something speaking about this kind of fandom behavior from a clear point of knowledge. Limited as the characterizations are, I wanted to visit this kind of event and meet these kinds of people.

  • hapax

    I loved that book when it first came out, for all the reasons Johanna mentioned.

    Sure, all the characters were one-dimensional stereotypes, but they were *recognizable* stereotypes; and for heaven’s sake, I don’t recall ANYTHING that acknowledged the female fan earlier (well, Asimov had a couple in his short stories set at cons, but his stereotypes were even crueller than McCrumb’s)

    ZOMBIES OF THE GENE POOL wasn’t nearly as interesting to me; the one thing I remember about it is that it had a very clever (and realistic!) twist concerning the use of the Internet in solving mysteries, that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

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