Thursday, September 11, 2014

Life (or Half-Life) After Death

Sadly, unavailable on Kindle.
Zombies of the Gene Pool:  Layered and nuanced, this Sharon McCrumb tale combines the Appalachian flavor of her Ballad series with her character-driven MacPherson mysteries to present a vision of life after youthful dreams have died. 

The "zombies" of the title are one-time science fiction Fans—that is fans with a capital "F"—whose juvenile attempts at deathless prose were buried in a pickle-jar time capsule in 1954. Since then, the Fan Farm where they wrote their earliest stories, and the time capsule in which they buried them, have been covered by the "Gene Pool" (a lake behind the Gene Breedlove Dam).

When the one-time authors learn that the lake will be drawn down for repairs to the dam, they put their variously-successful lives on hold to get together in a well-publicized reunion to dig up the stories. But more than the pickle jar is waiting to be revealed with the mud of the lake bottom.

The story is probably appealing to some readers for its insider knowledge of SF-Fandom; I enjoyed more the characters that always populate a McCrumb novel. The perennial adolescent in his fifties, the big-name author now drifting in the mists of Alzheimers, the engineer deeply embarrassed by his authorship of Bimbos of the Death Sun (yes, McCrumb gives that title away to one of her writer characters), the schizophrenic Hollywood producer whose authorial alter-ego is occasionally allowed to surface: these characters shamble through the tale dropping bits of decayed life and strange odors of scandal in their wake.

The novel is both akin to and richly unlike McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun, which I enjoyed just as much. They share kooky characters and insider jokes about SFFandom, but Bimbos frolics in the sunshine of the title, while Zombies takes a darker tone from the same elements. 

In the end, the Zombies mystery is less about who died and how and why, than it is about why our lives take such strange turns from where we imagine they will go when we are young.

Whether you are a fan of science fiction, or just of Sharon McCrumb, Zombies of the Gene Pool is definitely worthwhile.

Note: Zombies of the Gene Pool is not available on Kindle, but Bimbos of the Death Sun is.