A Few Quick Questions With…Michael R. Underwood

The first time I’d heard of Michael R. Underwood was on an episode of The Once and Future Podcast back in August of ’14, when he was promoting his first novel, Geekomancy, and I had to get my hands on it as quickly as I could. Reading it confirmed what I’d thought listening to the interview — this is my kind of writer: the interests, the sense of humor, the kind of story he was telling — if we weren’t members of the same Geek Taxonomic Rank, we were close enough. Every book/story since then has just increased that impression (even the ones that didn’t bowl me over). Naturally, I jumped at the chance to help promote his Kickstarter for Season 1 of Genrenauts with this little Q&A.

Man, I so wanted to go full fan-boy on him asking all sorts of detailed questions about his various books — especially this series — enough to make him shout, “Alpha 3-9!” while running away. Instead, I stuck with keeping it short and sweet, so he can focus on the Kickstarter, his job, his books, etc. (and because I like not having Restraining Orders taken out on me).

Michael R. UnderwoodMichael R. Underwood is the author of seven books: Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, The Younger Gods, and Genrenauts, a series in novellas (The Shootout Solution and The Absconded Ambassador). By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he geeks out on comics and games and makes pizzas from scratch. He is also a co-host on the Hugo Award-Finalist The Skiffy and Fanty Show and Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans.

Between your job, family, social life, social media, writing, media-ingestion (which based on your twitter feed and books is pretty impressive) how do you do it? Have you figured out how to survive without sleep?
I am actually a huge fan of sleep – I need at least 6 to 7 ½ hours a night to stay in peak form. I fit everything in because so many of the things I do fold into two or more others. Watching TV informs my fiction, it gives me stuff to blog about, or to discuss on the podcasts I do. Same with reading and video games. My wife is also a geek, so watching TV/movies, talking about media, and sitting around reading all still counts as time spent together.

My day job and my writing career support one another, since they’re both in the same field. I’m very lucky that my boss at Angry Robot, Marc Gascoigne, doesn’t expect me to put in long hours the way that some publishing professionals have to (I work 40 hours a week on the job, not 50-70 that I know some folks do). If I were an editor, I think it’d be much harder to keep everything balanced.

Even with all of that double-counting, I have still really streamlined my life. I used to have several more hobbies, but I haven’t been making time for tango or historical martial arts in the last few years. I’d like to get back into the martial arts, especially since I have a series in development which draws on that world.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
The movie I most wish I’d written and/or been involved in the creation of is Mad Max: Fury Road. Watching Fury Road for the first time was something akin to a conversion experience for me. The way that action drove (heh) the narrative, how action foregrounded and revealed character, and the way that the film told a very specific story about combating toxic masculinity and rape culture through the lens of an extended chase scene – all of those elements totally blew me away, and have served as a call to action, a challenge to do better in my own writing. It’s a phenomenal example that a story can be exciting, commercial, and have something to say in addition to “whee!”
In between installments of the Ree Reyes series, you had a couple of other works published. Are you exclusively a Genrenauts author for the rest of this season/through season 5, or do you have another iron or two in the fire?
Since the Genrenauts Kickstarter is going very well so far, things are looking good for that series, with the Season One omnibus scheduled for this fall. I’d then start working on Season Two at the start of 2017, looking to pick the series back up in the Spring/Summer.

But I definitely have some other projects in development. There’s the fencing-oriented series I alluded to above, and I’m also eager to get back to the first draft of a space opera that I’ve been working on (it’s so much fun, folks. Some of the most fun I’ve had writing fiction).

My goal is to keep Genrenauts going for all five planned seasons, and to fit other projects in between those seasons, including at least one novel a year if possible. I’d also love to do some writing in the comics medium, but right now my wish-list of projects far outstrips the time I have available to write them, so I have to prioritize based on what projects have the best prospects in terms of finding a good home or method of getting to readers.

Up to this point you’ve been writing Urban Fantasy and SF, is that home for you, or have you thought about trying something else — or are the various worlds in Genrenauts scratching your itch to dabble in something else? Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy, but could never write?
My tastes range across the genres of speculative fiction, so I’m definitely planning on continuing to stretch my skills and write in a variety of modes and sub-genres. Genrenauts really helps with some of that, though there are some places where I have a more specific idea in a sub-genre for something that wouldn’t be a good fit for Genrenauts. Those ideas get their own chair in the Green Room of my writing brain. It’s very crowded in there. Don’t let the Story Idea Fire Marshal know.

I’d really like to write some romantic SF/F, where the romance plot is as developed as the SF/F story. The Ree Reyes series has some romantic elements, but I’ve been reading more Romance novels/novellas and am continually impressed at how Romance writers draw out such intensity of emotion and characterization. I’m trying to learn from those writers and see where I can use those skills to strengthen the relationship plots in my own stories.

I’m not likely to ever write a Literary Fiction work – one without SF/F elements and focusing on the super-deep language, slow-burn, internal exploration that is expected in that mode. It’s just not how I approach storytelling.

The whole point of this was to help promote the Kickstarter campaign, so we’d better talk about it a little — How’s the Kickstarter going (especially compared to what you’d expected/hoped)? What do you want people to know about the campaign that you haven’t already said?
The campaign is going really well! We hit 70% a week from the initial launch (almost to the hour), and it’s looking very likely that we will not only fund, but we might hit several of the stretch goals to have Mary Robinette Kowal return to perform audiobook editions of further episodes in the series. I’m really excited by the outpouring of support I’ve seen for the series, from Kickstarter backers to people offering to help me spread the word to people eager to review the new episodes, and so on.

When I was first developing the idea for Genrenauts, I started to hope that this might become a Big Thing for me, a series that could become a major portion of my creative output over several years, something that would help me develop a community of readers and storytellers, and to contribute to the discussions about why we tell stories and what they can do socially and personally. Every new backer for the Kickstarter, makes that dream ever more a reality, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who is helping make it happen.

Thanks so much for your time. I hope the Kickstarter campaign succeeds, and look forward to reading the rest of the Season.

And, folks, even if you’re not that interested in helping Underwood out, go help out so we can get more of these audiobooks for my sake, okay?

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A Genrenauts Reminder

Today was . . . well, let’s call it a day (yesterday by the time this posts, technically). No time for a real post, and I’m too fried to format one of the guest posts I have for times like this.

So instead — let me remind you that Michael R. Underwood is kickstarting the rest of “Season One” of his Genrenauts series, a real favorite around these parts. Here’s a couple of good interviews he’s done to help promote it:

Check ’em out!

GENRENAUTS Kickstarter

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection/widget/video.html

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a huge fan of Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts series. If you don’t, take my word for it (or go read my posts on both novellas, the short story, and the audiobooks). Now, there’s the opportunity to back the production of the rest of “Season 1” of the series.

I encourage you to back it, buy the books, read the books, and then maybe back it at a higher level 🙂

I’ll try not to be annoying, but I will remind you about this a time or two in the next 29 days.

There Will Always Be a Max by Michael R. Underwood

There Will Always Be a MaxThere Will Always Be a Max

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 2.1

Kindle Edition, 26 pg.
Tor.com, 2016

Read: April 23, 2016


It’s not often that I do prep work before reading something — especially a 26 page story. But I wanted to fully appreciate this, so in the weeks leading up to the release (and one week after — hence the late review), I watched the Mad Max films — I’m not sure why, but they never appealed to me back in the 80s, and while I was curious about Fury Road, I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. While I’m very underwhelmed by the first two, the third was okay, and I really liked the latest. So finally, I felt ready to read this story.

So, so glad that I watched the movies first — I’d have been okay without it, but there were nuances, etc. that you pick up with the right background.

So we’re in a post-apocalyptic area, very much out of the Mad Max movies. Angstrom King is the only Genrenaut involved here — for reasons well explained — but Roman overshadows everything. I really appreciated this approach. I’ve been curious about the hints that Underwood dropped in The Absconded Ambassador about Roman and am glad we got more here — tho’ I’m still looking forward to getting the whole story eventually. It was good to see King doing more than commanding a mission, it was good for the character to get in the thick of things.

Underwood’s treatment of “The Max” idea/character is well done. The story, while brief, is full and exciting. Not much more to ask from 26 pages, really.

—–

4 Stars

The Absconded Ambassador (Audiobook) by Michael R. Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal

The Absconded AmbassadorThe Absconded Ambassador

by Michael R. Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal
(Narrator)
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 2

Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hours and 25 minutes
Macmillan Audio, 2016
Read: April 8, 2016
I really don’t have much more to say about the audiobook that I didn’t say about the original, but I wanted to get something up — so if this seems largely familiar, it is. But not entirely …

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.

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 (especially in this format). 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. 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.

Mary Robinette Kowal did another bang-up job. I’m still not crazy about her voice for King, but I listened to this one using my earbuds instead of my car speakers and she’s much easier to hear with that voice that way, so it doesn’t bother me as much. I liked her alien characters a lot. Shirin and Leah are great (I think I like the audiobook take on Shirin better than the one in my head when reading, actually)

Good way to spend a little time — very entertaining all around.

—–

4 Stars

The Shootout Solution (Audiobook) by Michael R. Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal

The Shootout SolutionThe Shootout Solution

by Michael R. Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal
(Narrator)
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 1

Unabridged Audiobook, 3 hours and 25 minutes
Macmillan Audio, 2015
Read: March 23, 2016


I thoroughly enjoyed the story about Leah Tang’s introduction to the wonderful and crazy world of the Genrenauts — and it’s sequel — when I read it last November. When heading out for a road trip, I figured it’d be a good distraction from the road for my wife, son and I. It’s a fun story, filled with characters you want to root for on an adventure that we all would like to take. I mean seriously, a rocketship ride to the Old West? Sign me up.

For me, this time it was a little easier to grasp the explanations given for what the team is up to — the new reality (better, realities) that Leah finds herself in this time out. Partially because I already knew it, partially because I find that kind of thing easier to digest when I hear it (so why don’t I listen to more audiobooks?)

On the whole, I was really impressed with Kowal’s narration. My wife and I weren’t crazy about her characterization of King — the voice was hard to understand, I really didn’t think it matched the description Underwood gave. I had virtually no other complaints — and in fact, really enjoyed her work. It was a little hard for me to deal with the fact that it took nearly three-and-a-half hours to get through, I’m used to spending a lot less time with Underwood’s works (most of them, anyway). But I did appreciate being forced to soak in the world, think about things a bit more than I would have on my own.

I was hoping we’d get through the second installment as well, but we weren’t able to squeeze that in. I’m curious what Kowall did with some of the characters we meet there, and hope I can figure out a time to get to it soon.

If you liked the novella — or if you think you’d like the book, but haven’t gotten around to grabbing it, the audiobook is well worth the small investment of time and money.

—–

4 Stars

Reposting: The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood

It’s Publication Day for The Absconded Ambassador, so I thought I’d better throw this up again. Go get your hands on it.

The Absconded AmbassadorThe Absconded Ambassador

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 2ARC, 159 pg.
Tor.com, 2016
Read: December 31, 2015

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.

—–

4 Stars