Long story short: in the context of laughter, "at" is not the same as "with."
~~Moved from GR~~
Bimbos of the Death Sun
by Sharyn McCrumb
I picked this up because I fell in love with the title--"Bimbos of the Death Sun" is just so very, very perfect. I've read one of McCrumb's Appalachian books, and thought that she would treat her subject, the world of science fiction and fantasy conventions, with respect and humanity.
I was so very, very wrong. The book is somewhat cute and definitely funny, but it is also very cruel.
I've never been to a "con"(convention), so I can't actually attest to the accuracy--and since the book is quite dated and was written about the time I was born, I suspect no one who went to one in the last twenty years or so can either. Fandom is an interesting and (as far as I can tell) relatively recent phenomenon, and I can see why McCrumb would be fascinated by it. However, she is clearly writing from the perspective of an outsider: she portrays the fantasy authors as jaded and nasty, the female con goers are desperate, oversexualised, and man-mad, and the men (or rather, boys) are pimpled, obese, awkward outcasts, desperate for approval and to become authors themselves. Obese characters are repeatedly mocked as "weighing more than an average calf," but women of this variety are still prized because cons are filled with desperate engineers--McCrumb calls them "losers,...runty little nerds, fat intellectuals,[and] misfits," who are happy to find anything at all female, no matter how overweight and plain--because clearly men only pick women based on traditional superficial beauty, and if they end up with a fat and/or unattractive woman, they must have been desperate. The main characters, the ones we are supposed to empathize with, are themselves outsiders and rather bemused by the excesses of the fans.
Admittedly, I found certain moments hilarious--like when the author of Bimbos of the Death Sun, an engineering professor, considers what would happen to him if SWE (the Society of Women Engineers) ever found out about his literary experiments. (I suspect H2SO4, computer viruses, and capacitors would be involved--they sure would be if I were there.) I also found it interesting to compare the feminism of the eighties with contemporary feminism--or at least, with my peculiar and rather extreme flavour of it. One of my favourite examples was when the female protagonist, a professor, comments that as a child, she didn't dream about being a housewife like most of her peers-- she wanted to be a superhero's action girl. Trailing after an "intelligent man" and playing Girl Friday during his adventures? Yeah, that's definitely equality, honest. As for the mystery, it was both painfully obvious and absolutely ridiculous, as was the policework. As one of those legend/mythos-obsessed nerds that McCrumb so deftly denigrates, I'll also add that her Celtic/Norse mythology, although portrayed as accurate in the book, is woefully faulty. It makes me doubt the validity of McCrumb's research in her other works.
The book was interesting because it caused me to examine my own feelings about comedy. For a book to feel solid and fun, I think the author must be part of the community he pokes fun at, and the humour must have a self-deprecating, rueful feel. A book like this, which picks a group of outsiders and relentlessly mocks it, will always just leave a bad taste in my mouth.