My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had really high hopes for this book, because Nev Fountain has written one of the most brilliantly funny things I've ever heard (the Big Finish audio, The Kingmaker). When I saw it on a dealer's table at the recent Gallifrey One convention, I snapped it up and started reading it immediately, hoping that it would be brilliant enough that I'd feel compelled to go straight back and buy the two sequels.
With such high hopes, it might have been inevitable that I'd be a bit disappointed. Geek Tragedy isn't a bad book by any means, but it wasn't quite the comedy home run that I'd been hoping for.
Geek Tragedy</em> features Mervyn Stone, the slightly washed up former script editor of the fictional 80s British sci-fi series Vixens from the Void. He's attending a convention, someone gets murdered, and Stone seems to be the only one who can put all the pieces together to figure out who the killer is.
So, let's start with what works: Vixens from the Void is a pretty brilliant creation. Fountain has perfectly captured the strange alchemy that happened so often on cult British sci-fi shows of that era: the combination of talented and dedicated people and hacks who were just there to get a paycheck, producing under tremendous budgetary and time pressure, creating something that is by turns, or occasionally simultaneously, incredibly camp and incredibly exciting. Diehard fans will recognize small details that Fountain stole from Doctor Who, or Blake's 7 or other shows, but Vixens... feels like it could easily have been a real show. At least once, I found myself thinking that I should look for a particular episode on Netflix, before I remembered that it's not a real show!
The idea that Mervyn Stone's experience as a script editor makes him a good detective because of his talent for weaving together seeming disparate plot threads and spotting holes in the narrative is a pretty cool idea, too. Stone spends so much of this book being a reluctant detective that his skills aren't shown off as much as I might like. There is a really terrific scene where Stone uses his mastery of plot logic to flummox the villain - I'd really like to see more of that in future books.
And there's some pretty effective satire of fans, the convention circuit, and the whole cult TV industry. If you go to these sorts of conventions, you will find yourself thinking, "Wow, I've been in that panel," or "Yeah, I know that actor."
So, what didn't work? Well, for all the genuinely sharp and funny humor, there was also a lot that seemed tired. The obligatory jokes about fans being socially inept, having poor hygiene, or being hugely fat just don't seem very funny, especially when Fountain gets much better laughs out of much more particular fannish foibles. And the amount of bile directed at female fans for daring to be fat and wear tight costumes and otherwise not be ashamed of their bodies seemed really disproportionate. (Mind you, the amount that I would find proportionate would be ZERO.)
As I noted above, Stone is a rather reluctant detective. This is completely in character, because normal people don't react to murders in their vicinity by trying to solve them. However, I personally feel pretty strongly that if I'm reading a mystery, I want to read about a mystery being solved, and so I prefer it when the protagonist gets over his or her qualms quite sharpish and gets down to sleuthing. This is a personal peeve of mine.
There's a lot of sub-plot space devoted to Stone's sexual adventures with convention guests and staff. That, plus the mockery of fat women, does tend to create the impression that Stone divides women into two classes: those he wants to sleep with, and those he doesn't. Some of the female characters are actually pretty awesome, and I'm not going to make the error of attributing the Stone's attitude to the author. But it doesn't make Stone particularly endearing.
So, okay, I didn't run straight out to buy the sequels to this book. I do plan to read them eventually, though I'll probably wait for the paperbacks. If you're a fan of cult British sci-fi and of mysteries, this book is worth a look. It is not the best thing Nev Fountain has ever written, but it's still quite entertaining.</em></em>
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