The Substitute Sleuth by Michael R. Underwood

The Substitute SleuthThe Substitute Sleuth

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #4

eARC, 88 pg.

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

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.


4 1/2 Stars

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?

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., 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
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