The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood

The Data DisruptionThe Data Disruption

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #0

Kindle Edition, 68 pg.
2017

Read: May 27, 2017


It’ll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this — it’s pretty established that I’m a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood’s telling — the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception — I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly — no growing pains needed — just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.

It’s a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I’m old enough that cyberpunk can be called “classic”) — notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They’ve worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an “in” to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.

Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a “lost pilot” to “serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.” Here’s my problem with that — no one watches a lost pilot until the show’s been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch “The Cage” (or the two-part version, “The Menagerie”) as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there’s something that’s slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that’s just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.

Still, Underwood knows what he’s doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he’s right.

Putting that aside, I’m supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood’s plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me — but it’s supposed to be short, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length — even I’m tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would’ve liked to see everything fleshed out a little more — also, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action — celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work — and winking at the genre at the same time.

Still, any time with the ‘Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can’t stop recommending — and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.

—–

3.5 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection by Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #1-6

Kindle Edition, 544 pg.
2016


Parallel to our world are various worlds populated by fictional characters in a wide variety of genres (Western, SF, Romance, etc), and when things go wrong in the stories, things go wrong in our world. For example, broken Romance world stories = higher divorce rates here. In this world, there are a number of teams of story specialists who shift to the other worlds to fix the stories and set things back on course here. Leah Tang — a struggling stand-up comic by night, struggling receptionist by day — is the newest recruit. Join her as she learns the ropes, rights wrongs, struggles with ethics, and gets shot at while cracking jokes.

Originally printed as 6 episodes in 5 novellas, now collected in one season-long omnibus, Genrenauats as become one of my favorite series this year and I’m glad to get one more chance to talk about it with the release of the collection this week.

There’s a great cast of characters here, all of which deserve the reader’s time and focus. For example, I was tempted to not-really-ignore, but relegate Angstrom King to back burner status in my mind. He’s the leader, he points the team in a direction, but the real excitement’s with the rest. This was a mistake on my part — think of him like Capt. Picard. Sure, for the most part he sits around in his ready room with some Earl Gray (hot) — but really, some of the more interesting things that happen in he series are because of his actions. King’s not Jean-Luc, but there’s a similar quality.

I love a good team — fiction, TV, comics, you name it — the interaction, the teamwork, the dynamics, there’s really nothing like it. There’s a great team in these novellas — some of the intra-team camaraderie got pushed aside for a little romance that doesn’t really work for me (but I get why it would for others and appreciate the way Underwood’s tackling it). Overall, it’s built on solid interactions and relationships that have plenty of room to grow and develop over the many seasons that we hopefully get of this.

Each adventure gives Underwood an opportunity to talk about various genres — to talk about the clichés, tropes, archetypes, pluses, minuses, and so on of each genre. And one visit to each won’t be enough to fully explore these. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Master’s Theses-esque discussion, he jokes about them, plays with them, sometimes turns them upside down while telling his tale.

The collection includes:
The Shootout Solution — We meet Leah Tang, Angstrom King and the rest of his team. We’re also introduced to the concept of Genrenauts, Story Worlds, the effects that they can have on our world — also, we get a pretty decent story in Western World. Not bad for 148 pages. (For more details, you might want to read my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Absconded Ambassador — The team goes to Science Fiction World to help out on a DS9-like Space Station. On the verge of a major treaty being finalized and signed, the Terran ambassador has been kidnapped. It’s up to King and co. to rescue the ambassador and keep the shaky alliance from crumbling in her absence. We learn a little more about everyone, and while having a lot of fun with genre conventions. ( my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Cupid Reconciliation — The team gets back up to full strength in time to go rescue a Rom-Com gone awry. Underwood really lets things fly when it comes to observations about the genre and playing with conventions while using them for comedic — and narrative — value. Also — a couple of seeds that were planted in the first two novellas are watered enough that you can see season/season-plus story arcs beginning to grow. The series took a big jump in quality here. ( my original blog post)

The Substitute Sleuth — A Police Procedural needs some help, a no-nonsense cop’s off-the wall/out-of-the-box partner takes a bullet and another pair of mismatched detectives needs to come in and close the case. We get some major backstory stuff here, and the season arc is moved along nicely. The detective story itself isn’t my favorite, but what Underwood does with the tropes, themes, conventions, etc. is really good — it is more of a TV detective story than a novel detective story. Think Castle, not Harry Bosch (whoops, thanks Amazon, you ruined that point…). ( my original blog post)

The Failed Fellowship (Part 1 & 2) — This think kicks off with Leah Tang ranting about fantasy fiction and 5 episodes later, she gets to spend 2 episodes in Fantasy World, where a Chosen One with a Magic Artifact story has fallen to pieces. Leah’s in hog heaven, the rest of the team are at the top of their game and Underwood is, too. Rollicking good adventure. Best of the batch in every way. ( my original blog post)

I dig this series, and having all of the novellas in one handy collection is going to make it easier (I hope) for others to discover it — the collection is also a little cheaper than buying all the individual stories, which will also going to make things easier for people to discover it. If you haven’t dipped your toe in this world/these worlds yet, what are you waiting for?

—–

5 Stars

The Failed Fellowship by Michael R. Underwood

The Failed FellowshipThe Failed Fellowship

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #5 & 6

eARC, 181 pg.
2016

Read: September 16 – 17, 2016

Her job was to fix the story, not right every little wrong in the entire world.

But was that really enough? If you force someone to work with shoddy equipment and they get hurt every week, eventually, shouldn’t you fix the tool instead of sending them to the doctor? She’d spent the last several months playing the doctor, applying spot fixes along with the team, keeping to the shadows. Help the real hero, delay the problems until the real hero came back.

I want to come back to talk about Leah’s continuing difficulties adopting the right attitude as a Genrenaut, but we’ve got some work to get through first.

A band of intrepid warriors, in possession of a magic artifact carried by the one person capable of stopping a great evil enters a castle and fights through untold numbers of warriors through magic and feats of strength and skill. Only to have the Chosen One killed before they can challenge the leader of the forces of evil. Clearly, not the way this story is supposed to go — which creates problems on Earth Prime, and a need for Angstrom King’s team to come to Fantasy World, get the band back together, and fix the story.

The first thing the team does when they get to the world is track down Ioseph, the wizard who assembled the failed heroes. Leah describes him as:

Gandalf if Gondor had already fallen, Dumbledore facing a fascist wizard state under Voldemort.

Which is a great descriptive line, wholly genre-appropriate. This is Underwood at his best — not that he’s not great in SF or the other genres we’ve seen this season — but in Fantasy, he’s at his strength (see the Ree Reyes series for further examples).

It’s not just Underwood being comfortable, either — one of the first things we learned about Leah is that she’s a big Fantasy Fan. So her being here was is just what she’s been waiting for — and she makes the most of it. She jokes, she fights, she sings (her character is a bard), performs heroic deeds and she eats a lot of stew (while making the requisite snarky remarks about the stew). Everything you want in an epic fantasy novel or game, it’s celebrated and commented on at the same time. It’d be very easy to do a quick edit to remove all the references to other worlds/Genrenauts/etc. and come up with a decent novella-length story here — with a pretty good twist. Thankfully, we don’t have to read that hypothetical edit — we get Leah and the gang guiding us through it.

In addition to the pretty fun story — we get to see these Genrenauts function like a fully formed team — which is not to say they’re perfect, part of it is Leah’s rookie status, part of it comes from the length of time they spend in this world (as we learned last time), and part of it is the uncertainty that the tall woman they’ve been chasing brings to the story. There’s at least one other part, but you have to read the book to learn about it. Roman gets to tell Leah where he came from and what that means, which helps him a lot (the rest of the team, too). King’s and Shirin’s part of the story is the more straight-forward, if for no other reason than their temperaments and experience. Which is not to say that their parts are dull — in fact, one of the best characters from this world (with the obligatory annoying ‘ in his name) comes from their portion of the story.

The focus is, of course, on Leah — she loves being surrounded by a fantasy story and lets the setting get to her. Also, as the opening quotation shows, she’s struggling with her role as a Genrenaut in various worlds. Much like Kirk bristling under the constraints of the Prime Directive, Leah has a hard time adapting her sense of right and wrong to the world and culture she’s in — and I’m not sure she’s getting better about it, maybe she’s getting worse the more comfortable she is with the team. Frankly, I’m glad to see her struggle here, and I’m not sure what side I want her to come down on.

Leah’s now at the end of her probationary status — and if any of the Genrenauts were analyzing their own story, they’d clearly see that this was the end of a narrative arc and that something big was about to happen — enough to close this chapter and lead into a new one. It does, and it’s a doozy. Man, I hope things went well enough on the sales front for Underwood to be able to bring us a second season (if not seven) — I’m more than ready to support the next Kickstarter.

Underwood seemed more confident, a little more willing to have fun with the genre in these entries than he has with the others (not that he’s been all that restrained before). I loved this. When (for example) Leverage was on the air — there were better shows on, but few that I enjoyed as much. Similarly, I’ve read better books this year than The Failed Fellowship or any of the others in this series, but not that many and none have made me as happy reading these. There is one line towards the end of this that made me laugh out loud (and groan, too — Leah has no shame) and if I read an interview where Underwood said he wrote the previous 5 books in this series just to set up this line? It’d be justified.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author in exchange for this post — I thank him for it (and for releasing the cover image in time for me to post this without my lousy placeholder).

—–

5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Substitute Sleuth by Michael R. Underwood

The Substitute SleuthThe Substitute Sleuth

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #4eARC, 88 pg.
2016
Read: July 11, 2016

Adventure, excitement, hypothermia. All of this and more await you in the Genrenauts!

Once again, Leah Tang is having a rough time on her first visit to a genre world. It’s Chicago, there’s a snow storm, her primary partner on this particular mission is getting a bit too wrapped up in the story, and she had to see her second dead body (not that such a sight is ever pleasant, but this one is well, is fit for the opening scenes of Castle, Bones, etc.). Thankfully, her sense of humor isn’t only welcome on this mission, it’s required.

It all starts when poor Leah has to wake up early, summoned for a mission to patch a small story breach on Crime World — the Police Procedural region to be precise. King’s going to let her take the lead on it as a training exercise. And then things go wrong. Because, well, that’s just how things are going for this team lately — and the one story breach they came to Crime World to patch is overshadowed by a bigger one. Crime World breaches left unpatched bleed over into our world in the form more, and worse, crimes. Every bleed from a Genre World into ours sounds bad — but this one is worse. Leah is still having qualms about the ethics involved in what her team does, but given the stakes, she’s willing to put them aside.

Probably more than in the previous adventures, Leah and King lean on and exploit the tropes of this world and region. As a fan of the Whacky Investigator/Straight-Laced Law Officer partner stories/shows, I loved watching the two of them use, critique, and play with the story beats, types and clichés. White Hat hacking, convenient recovery periods after being shot, how clues show up at just the right time, and so on. At one point, Leah sees a pair of detectives that work in the precinct with the detective at the center of the breach:

Leah took them to be the friend cops, the other team that would work another part of a case—the cases that would all too often end up being related, thanks to the laws of narrative conservation.

I love that phrase “laws of narrative conservation,” I am stealing that, period. I talk about that phenomenon all the time here, and this phrase is going to save me so much typing.

Between this and the Max novella, we’re learning a good deal about Angstrom King — I think I’m getting a really good sense of him, and I’m liking him more than I expected. Leah is pretty much Leah, just a little more confident in her place and moving onward from where she’s been so far in the series. The rest of the team faded to the background to an extent that I found surprising, and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come. I’m pretty sure it’s not, Underwood wouldn’t have spent so much time establishing the team and characters if he was going to drop them. Everyone was present, but their roles were very diminished. Mallery’s got a bit more to do than the others, but really not much.

The closing pages of this do a great job of setting-up the two-part season finale in the next two novellas. I can’t say more than that — but how any fan of this series can be patient waiting to see what comes next is a greater mystery than the ones the team encounters on Crime World. Best of the bunch.

N.B.: As this was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm them as soon as I can.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of novella from the author in exchange for this post–thanks, Mr. Underwood!

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Substitute Sleuth by Michael R. Underwood

The Substitute SleuthThe Substitute Sleuth

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #4

eARC, 88 pg.
2016

Read: July 11, 2016

Adventure, excitement, hypothermia. All of this and more await you in the Genrenauts!

Once again, Leah Tang is having a rough time on her first visit to a genre world. It’s Chicago, there’s a snow storm, her primary partner on this particular mission is getting a bit too wrapped up in the story, and she had to see her second dead body (not that such a sight is ever pleasant, but this one is well, is fit for the opening scenes of Castle, Bones, etc.). Thankfully, her sense of humor isn’t only welcome on this mission, it’s required.

It all starts when poor Leah has to wake up early, summoned for a mission to patch a small story breach on Crime World — the Police Procedural region to be precise. King’s going to let her take the lead on it as a training exercise. And then things go wrong. Because, well, that’s just how things are going for this team lately — and the one story breach they came to Crime World to patch is overshadowed by a bigger one. Crime World breaches left unpatched bleed over into our world in the form more, and worse, crimes. Every bleed from a Genre World into ours sounds bad — but this one is worse. Leah is still having qualms about the ethics involved in what her team does, but given the stakes, she’s willing to put them aside.

Probably more than in the previous adventures, Leah and King lean on and exploit the tropes of this world and region. As a fan of the Whacky Investigator/Straight-Laced Law Officer partner stories/shows, I loved watching the two of them use, critique, and play with the story beats, types and clichés. White Hat hacking, convenient recovery periods after being shot, how clues show up at just the right time, and so on. At one point, Leah sees a pair of detectives that work in the precinct with the detective at the center of the breach:

Leah took them to be the friend cops, the other team that would work another part of a case—the cases that would all too often end up being related, thanks to the laws of narrative conservation.

I love that phrase “laws of narrative conservation,” I am stealing that, period. I talk about that phenomenon all the time here, and this phrase is going to save me so much typing.

Between this and the Max novella, we’re learning a good deal about Angstrom King — I think I’m getting a really good sense of him, and I’m liking him more than I expected. Leah is pretty much Leah, just a little more confident in her place and moving onward from where she’s been so far in the series. The rest of the team faded to the background to an extent that I found surprising, and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come. I’m pretty sure it’s not, Underwood wouldn’t have spent so much time establishing the team and characters if he was going to drop them. Everyone was present, but their roles were very diminished. Mallery’s got a bit more to do than the others, but really not much.

The closing pages of this do a great job of setting-up the two-part season finale in the next two novellas. I can’t say more than that — but how any fan of this series can be patient waiting to see what comes next is a greater mystery than the ones the team encounters on Crime World. Best of the bunch.

N.B.: As this was an ARC, there’s a chance that the quotations above might not be in the published version, I’ll try to confirm them as soon as I can.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of novella from the author in exchange for this post–thanks, Mr. Underwood!

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Cupid Reconciliation by Michael R. Underwood

What? Another Genrenauts/Michael R. Underwood post? Yup. Don’t worry, I’m going to slow down a bit (well, after this and then next week’s post, “What’s in Underwood’s Sock Drawer?”) — but trying to get the word out about the Kickstarter and the series takes some repetition.

I’m pretty sure that there’s a paragraph missing from this — I just don’t know what it was supposed to be about. I may end up revising this tomorrow.

The Cupid ReconciliationThe Cupid Reconciliation

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #3

eARC
2016
Read: May 17, 2016

This is my life, Leah thought . . . My amazing, confusing, totally screwed-up life.

Just as Leah is getting to the point that she’s starting to feel comfortable, maybe even a little confident, in her new job — her new life — things get shook up a little. Mallery, the member of the team whose injury led to Leah’s recruitment, is back from her convalescence. That alone will change the team dynamic in the field, and maybe even effect Leah’s standing in the team. The fact that they’re headed to Romantic-Comedy world, Mallery’s specialty, doesn’t help Leah’s spirits (particularly because she’d like that to be her specialty, too).

Speaking of the various worlds, I don’t know if we’d ever been given insight into how life in a Genre World would start to change a person after awhile. Or if we were, it wasn’t explained the way it was here. That was just a cool touch.

While Leah continues to be our point-of-view character, our entry into this world, this is really Mallery’s book. The rest of the team are there, and contribute but the major non-Leah narrative weight is all carried by Mallery. Which I’m fine with, she seems to be a fun character (maybe a little hard to take in real life, but that could just be her nerves about getting into the field/dealing with a probie) and we need to get to know her, but she’s a force of nature.

Mallery beamed, which Leah was realizing was pretty close to the woman’s resting face. Some women had resting bitch face, but Mallery glowed. It was impressive. A little annoying, but impressive.

There was something in the “Coming Next” page in the last episode that made me worry about the relationship between these two not getting off on the right foot — thankfully, it seemed to get off on a decent (if not the right) foot — but nothing’s perfect. The two characters are going to have to fumble a bit to get a strong working relationship.

Don’t get me wrong — King, Roman, and Shirin all had their moments and made their presence felt — but they were bit players in this one. I did appreciate getting to see Roman’s softer side on display, he’s a deeper thinker than you might take him for and his efforts to help the “male lead,” were borderline sweet.

Straightaway when they get to the world, they come up with a strong candidate for the couple causing the breach — and the team is wrong, they have to work harder than the last two times to find where the problem is. I appreciated that move — and didn’t realize until then how smooth that step had gone in the previous adventures.

Maybe it’s because this particular world so closely resembles our own, but Leah got a bit of insight into how the Genrenauts’ activities might seem to one of the people from that world — and it’s not that pretty. The Genrenauts violate the Prime Directive more than Kirk ever did (to put it in genre-terms). And Leah’s not so sure that their particular brand of meddling is all that ethical. And I have to admit, she may have a point. Mallery shuts down that kind of thinking/talk — at least until they’re safely back home. I trust that Leah’s doubts and questions will be all dealt with in a way that’s honest in the near future. Regardless, Leah’s ethical qualms add a good dimension to things.

I enjoyed seeing this world through Genrenaut eyes — the availability of fantastic (and cheap) apartments with amazing views, how easy it is to get a cab, the fact that there’s a romantic scene seemingly everywhere in the background — happy couples everywhere.

. . . Leah walked up to a double-wide window facing the park. The leaves were changing, making for a sea of rich oranges and yellows beside a crystal-clear lake. The view was postcard-perfect. And as a cherry on top, there was a couple rowing a boat in the lake, one carrying a parasol. And Leah could even make out a picnic basket. The energy of the place was contagious. Western world was cheesy and scary. Science Fiction was cheesy and a bit confusing. Rom-Com world was cheesy and delightful.

There’s sort of a happy ending montage at the end (or the narrative equivalent of one, anyway) that was just perfect. Once I realized what exactly Underwood was up to there, I couldn’t help grinning. I know it’s part of the series premise for him to play with, celebrate, comment on genre tropes, clichés, conventions and so on — but sometimes what he does seems to capture the essence of the particular genre in a way that just feels like he did it better than usual. This is one of those times.

If you’ve been reading this series already, you’re going to really enjoy this. If you haven’t started — go back to Episode 1 and start fresh, you won’t be sorry. Underwood has a good thing going here, and it’s just getting better. Fun, yet thoughtful; action-packed, but pretty restrained in use of force. A great balancing act that should inspire more to do this.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author as part of his promotion of the Season One Kickstarter.

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4 1/2 Stars