tek's rating: ½

Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson, by George Alec Effinger (collection pub. 1993)
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This is a collection of short stories individually published between 1982 and 1993. I had never heard of the stories, until at some point in probably the late 90s I saw the book listed in the Science Fiction Book Club catalog, and it seemed like something I'd like to check out, someday (partly because the title character looked pretty hot on the cover). However, I didn't actually get the book until I happened to see a used copy in a book shop, in 2011. And I didn't get around to reading it until 2012.

Each story is framed by a character named Elizabeth 'Bitsy' Spiegelman talking about how her old school friend, Maureen 'Muffy' Birnbaum dropped in on her, unexpectedly, to tell her stories of her adventures. Bitsy clearly did not enjoy these visits, a fact of which Muffy seems purposely oblivious. Anyway, the bulk of each short story is written in Muffy's voice. It started with her accidentally and inexplicably... jumping to Mars. Just, whoosh, there she is. And she had a little adventure, where she met a cute guy named Prince Van, and fought some monsters, and got a very revealing outfit and a broadsword which she named 'Old Betsy' (after Davy Crockett's rifle). After that adventure, she returned to Earth, but later tried to whoosh her way back to Mars, to find Prince Van again. However, she failed. Every time she tried to go there, she ended up some other strange location in time and space, generally based on some other author's fantasy or science fiction stories. And every time, she managed to get back to Earth, to tell Bitsy about her adventures.

There's a great deal of Valspeak in these stories, something neither Muffy nor Bitsy ever get over, no matter how much time passes. And time is a curious thing... I'm pretty sure Muffy has a lot of adventures which haven't been told, but while Bitsy goes on living her life, growing up, getting married... Muffy doesn't age. And I'm not sure how much time she actually spends on Earth, but she sometimes seems to be aware of elements of culture that must have happened while she was away... and perhaps other times she seems unaware of these things. But I feel like she probably isn't really experiencing as much time as Bitsy does, so I'm not sure why her reappearances happen at the specific times they do. But maybe I'm wrong. It's not really important. (But I suppose it's just that each story is set at the time it was written.) I should also say that Muffy soon decides to start calling herself by her full name, Maureen, yet when Bitsy wants to be called by her full name, Elizabeth, Maureen keeps calling her Bitsy. Double standard, much?

I'm probably forgetting things I wanted to mention, but I don't really feel like detailing any of the stories (there are eight of them in the book; a few others may be found elsewhere, but I doubt I'll ever read them). I couldn't help wondering if 'Muffy' had any influence on Joss Whedon's creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but probably not. Anyway, the stories were fairly amusing, but I don't think I would have cared for them if they'd been much longer, or if there had been many more of them. I mean, a little Muffy goes a long way, you know? Not a bad character, but not someone I want to spend a lot of time with. The concept gets old, after awhile. Definitely worth the read, though.


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(Image taken from Amazon.com.)