And that\'s when the book lost me

There are books (movies, tv shows) that leave one with a vague sense of disquiet. You know that they \”lost\” you at some point but you cannot quite put your finger on it. There are others that have a least one moment that one can point at and say \’there, there it lost me. I was no longer willing to willfully suspend my disbelief in the extraordinary things because the author has demonstrated that they don\’t even grasp the ordinary ones\’

I had one of these moments in Sharyn McCrumb\’s Bimbos of the Death Sun

\”Well…what does he want?\”

\”I don\’t know!\” wailed Perry. \”Something called \’Smarties\’ and \’Yorkies.\’ Drugs, I expect.\”

\”No, Miles. It\’s British candy. Smarties are like M&Ms, and a Yorkie is a chocolate bar.\” Being a Canadian gave Diefenbaker an occasional cultural advantage over his more insular American colleagues.(19) [1]

Bimbos is a murder mystery set at a science fiction and fantasy convention. People encouraged me to read it because I was a fan of science fiction, science fantasy and murder mysteries. What could be better? And part of the fun, I was told, was figuring out all the inside jokes. What best selling author was this character a send up of and which former best selling author was being made fun of in that scene.

One of the most common descriptions of the book was \”well observed\” and everyone assured me that McCrumb was making jokes and constructing caricatures from the inside looking out not the outside looking in.

And then I read page 19. And after that page I could never quite trust the author again. For you see, I am a Canadian. I grew up seeing Smarties at every grocery checkout counter. I grew up seeing Smarties at every convenience store. I grew up getting Smarties on Hallowe\’en. If I was asked if Smarties were a drug I would never, ever think to say that they were a British candy. I might say that they are candy covered chocolates that are vastly superior to M&Ms. I would not call them British.

So, if I can\’t trust McCrumb to get a detail like that right–why should I trust her about things I know less about that which candies are available in the convenience stores of Canada.

The rest of the book may be witty and full of inside jokes but I will never know. It lost me on page 19.

[1] McCrumb, Sharyn (2002). Bimbos of the Death Sun Rosetta Books


10 thoughts on “And that\'s when the book lost me

  1. I don't know, is \”he\” British? Whoever he was? In which case it might make sense for Diefendorfer to explain that \”he\” is looking for something he would get at home. In Britain.Or maybe not; I suppose a Canadian would probably just say, \”No, they're candy,\” no matter who was asking for them.I never read \”Bimbos\” but I remember liking some of McCrumb's \”ballad novels,\” particularly The Ballad of Frankie Silver and Ghost Riders. She's apparently much more at home in Appalachia!I'm not a real big fan of inside jokes, anyway. One of the few quibbles I have with Steven Brust's books is the little inside references and sound-alike names: it's all very funny when you get it, but when you don't, there's this little moment of disconnect: am I missing something that I'm not \”inside\” enough to catch, or is there nothing to catch? Either way, it's kind of a distraction every time there's a new character or place name.

  2. Yeah, I am not a terribly big fan of the \”inside joke\” style of writing. It is funny how much the \”Smarties\” comment dropped me out of the book. I guess it would be like an American explaining to someone in England that \”potato chips are Canadian snacks.\” With Brust I must admit that I usually don't get any of the inside stuff at all and then, since I am on a listserve that Brust himself posts on….someone explains them and I think okay, yeah, but it doesn't really make the book any better.

  3. Flagging Firedrake I don't have your email address but I do have an answer as to why your comment bounces isn't accepted by blogger. You have to use something like instead. (the only way I could even post what looked like was by typing & l t ; etc.

  4. Aha, thanks! I foolishly assumed there'd be an error message. (The email address I used to write to you is valid btw.)OK, rearranging:I did finish Bimbos, but…I'm not sure quite what it is. I think McCrumb feels to me like an outsider, and I've already met far too many outsiders' attacks on SF fandom and role-playing games. Pointing up the sillinesses of a community from a place of love is fine (consider Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret, much of which is drawn from the life), but I'm not at all convinced that Bimbos IS in fact done from a place of love; the more I read of it, the more it seemed just to be saying \”look at the silly people, aren't you glad you're not them\”.

  5. Blogspot doesn't really give you a useful response to that code problem does it? (I had the same thing happen to me a while back.)And yes, McCrumb does feel like an outside and one who is trying desperately to sound like an insider. The \”pretending to be a Canadian while having the person say something a Canadian probably would not) is rather symptomatic. As was using the name Diefenbaker since it is the name of a former Canadian PM. Which if she did minimal research probably popped up as a \”name not known in the US but sounds really Canadian.\”And yes, it is one thing to mock from a point of love and other to just mock. Since I grew up loving my SF and being told is was silly and childish I get a bit touchy myself.

  6. Diefenbaker was also the name of the Canadian wolf/dog character on Due South, which I remember as being a moderately popular program in the 90's. No research required at all!

  7. Canadian \”Smarties\” are made of chocolate? The candies I'm familiar with are these awful chalky little tablet things that taste more or less like children's medicine. Yay, I learned something today!

  8. Yup, Smarties in Canada are chocolate ovals covered with a coloured candy coating. Children tend to firmly believe that different colours have different tastes. They are somewhat similar to M&Ms except that, for this Canadian at least, M&Ms taste far, far sweeter. You can see a picture of them on this tumblr

  9. I'm with Mad Monkey here on the \”wait, Smarties are chocolate?\” Funny how that works. I'm glad Canadians have not had to experience USian Smarties.

  10. Ugh, ugh, ugh, I had that book recommended to me, too. It struck me as very much a book mocking fans, and with an out dated idea of science fiction, period. I found the renaming of the main character's book implausible – maybe before sci-fi became popular, maybe – but hard sci-fi doesn't get titled that way, and didn't in '88.And the con stuff really seemed like a case of mocking the weirdos. (Also, there were factually impossible things there, too. Real weapons aren't allowed, except, at a few cons in the costume contest itself, and only then. Even fake weapons are banned from all but the costume contest at some cons. I didn't get the impression that that was anything new when I went to my first con in '90 or '91)

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