September 23rd, 2002

The Monday Morning "Gaaah, It's Monday" Review - Maureen Birnbaum: Barbarian Swordsperson

It's not been a good year for science fiction, with the deaths of several well known writers. One sad loss was George Alec Effinger, author of (amongst many) the Muffy Birnbaum series of pastiches. These dropped an all American prep-school girl into various classic fantasy and SF scenarios, and then just let rip.

Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson is a 1993 collection of eight different Muffy stories, taking her from Barsoom to Lovecraft (via the world of Nightfall, the Hollow Earth and a crazed shopping contest with Maid Marion in the Sherwood Forest Mall). One thing's clear - these are not stories to be taken seriously. Mureen Birnbaum is telling her stories to an old school friend, while the friend's life trundles on through marriage, motherhood and divorce. It's this mix with mundanity that adds spice to Muffy's stories, showing them as glorious romps of fantasy that set more than just Muffy free - even though she never finds either of her true loves.

It's difficult to review a book like this. One one hand you've enjoyed it so much that you just want everyone to read it, and on the other you want to produce a deep textual analysis to point out how well the author has distorted the obvious stylistic traits of his victims in his pastiches - from Asimov's dry wit, to Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. But, after all, it's easy as Effinger obviously delights in his character, and wants you to have as much fun as her. Sometimes the humour may be a little forced, but in general it just flows from the situation: a preppie, with a broadsword uddenly arriving in a world we know and love - or if not love, at least are familiar with...

One thing to note - as this is a 1993 volume it doesn't contain all the Maureen Birnbaum stories (despite it's subtitle "The Complete Stories" there are at least two later stories). Still, it's an excellent introduction to one of modern SF's more (dare I use the phrase) endearing characters - unless you're her ever suffering friend Bitsy...
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