It’s a book I read in paper back in the mid-to-late 1980s. I don’t remember the plot or genre. Most likely it would have been science fiction or an espionage thriller, as that’s what I was mostly reading at the time.
I can remember only one scene:
Male character having a flashback explaining his animosity towards recently introduced female character.
He was an American grad student in Welsh mythology. She was his advisor or professor. He’s banging her and relying on the fact that he’s banging her to pass his courses, as he does very little studying. They break up, I think he dumps her. After the breakup, he is bullshitting his way through his thesis defense and has almost convinced the committee to approve him when the advisor, knowing that he’s bullshitting, interjects with something like “Very impressive work on Welsh mythology. By the way, where exactly is Wales?” He’s unable to answer, is exposed as a total fraud, has his thesis rejected, end of flashback.
There’s a very similar scene (actually, a flashback to a long-ago scene) in one of Farmer’s Riverworld novels. A character was having multiple affairs as a grad student. One of those affairs was with his advisor, who was quite a bit older than him. He was exhausted by all the sex, so he broke up with a couple of the women, including his advisor. At his thesis defense, she asked him some question like that, ruining his chance for his degree.
Of course, knowing where Wales is on the map really has no bearing whatsoever on ones ability to understand and empathize with Welsh mythology. If what he was saying about the mythology made sense, this would actually be no reason at all to fail him, and he would not be, in the relevant sense, a fraud…
Hmm. I have absolutely no recollection of reading Mindkillers. Not saying I didn’t, just I don’t remember ever reading it. I did read the Riverworld series, but I thought I remembered it better. Maybe it was in the rather lackluster, extremely talky and forgettable Gods of Riverworld. Looks like I’ll need to check the library this weekend.
Doorways in the Sand, by Roger Zelazny. Not nearly his best, but a fun read nonetheless. For all the alien encounters and involuntary live organ donations, the most memorable part was the protagonist’s efforts to remain a full-time college student indefinitely while never graduating to exploit his trust fund. IIRC, the character who whiffed on Welsh geography was his roommate.
No doubt this kind of urban legend appears in a lot of fiction…
Is this really an urban legend? Is it limited to science fiction writers? It’s odd if that’s so that I’ve never heard it before except in one of the Riverworld novels. Maybe we should try to collect all appearances of this story if it’s really a common element in fiction or (supposed) nonfiction.