Working as a Genrenaut was like being a member of a theater troupe run by a burnt-out hippie who melded Devising with MBA management: the ideas were outlandish and random, but the execution was 100% corporate.
Now this was a way to close out 2015 — the second episode in Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts delivers on the promise of Episode 1, and demonstrates that his special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next (just my current guess at his secret recipe) has legs — and will hopefully go a long time.
Leah has had about a week to get used to this new reality since her adventure in Western World — a week filled with meetings, reading assignments and trying to wrap her head around things. In the meanwhile, everyone at Genrenauts HQ is trying to prepare for the next breach (in the midst of a spike of 15% over the norm, for your corporate types), probably in Romance World. Which obviously means it’ll be pretty much anywhere else, like say Science Fiction World.
The station of Ahura-3, in the space opera region, to be specific. I’m sure the similarity between the name of the station and a certain Communications Officer is a huge coincidence. Ahura-3 is everything you want in a space station — it’s a melting pot of very-alien-looking/acting aliens, it’s a culture to itself, with strategic location, and very delicate intergalactic politics.
Leah’s excitement about being in “honest-to-goodness, Sally Ride is my homegirl zero-g” space was infectious. But even more fun was the amount of SF references Underwood fit into half of chapter 1 — truly astounding, and didn’t feel forced or overcrowded. He deserves a tip of the cap right there. I made it all the way to page 42 without having to Google one of them (I think there was only one other time I had to grab my smart phone). But the fun’s not limited to the references and allusions — it’s in the alien cultural practices (and appearances), the various factions (human and otherwise), businesses, and just watching the whole Science Fiction World thing at work.
One thing that’s been niggling at the back of my mind with these Episodes is what’s to keep Leah from being Ree Reyes 2.0? Underwood seems to be going with keeping Leah from the more Parker/Eliot Spencer-type roles and moving her into the Sophie Devereau/Alec Hardison-type roles. She and Shirin scramble all over the station trying to keep treaty negotiations moving forward. They’re thinking on their feet, using their wits, charm and SF knowledge to keep things under control — Leah’s on-the-job training under Shirin helps the readers acclimate to this world, too. The action-hero needs are served by the rest of the team, Roman and King — whose banter while throwing punches, engaging in dogfights, and so on, kept the fun going (honestly, maybe was a little more fun than the rest).
In Episode 1, I wondered if the pilot nature of the novella kept it from being everything I wanted it to be. The Absconded Ambassador built on that ground work and gave us a solid, fully-formed adventure — everything I hoped it would be. And that’s just in the main story, there’s all this other stuff going on: not only do we have a sense of impending doom — or at least very big crisis — coming to the Multi-Genre-Verse. But now we’ve got some sort of secret within the team (not one that’s going to cause much trouble, I don’t think — but you never know), and (according to the preview for Episode 3) maybe some intra-team conflict. Underwood just nailed here, and Genrenauts is about half-a-novella away from being his most consistently entertaining work.
I won a copy of this in a drawing on the author’s website — which means I got to read it two months early — and I got a very nice autograph on the title page. The downside is, I have to wait longer than I’d have had to wait otherwise between Episodes 2 and 3. I still came out ahead, but not by much.