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

Advertisements

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

The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood

The Absconded AmbassadorThe Absconded Ambassador

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 2

ARC, 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

The Shootout Solution by Michael R. Underwood

The Shootout Solution The Shootout Solution

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 1

Kindle, 148 pg.

Tor.com, 2015

Read: November 18 – 19, 2016

Because he didn’t have enough series/irons in the fire already, here’s a new series from Michael R. Underwood — the man behind the Ree Reyes/Geekomancy series, Shield and Crocus and The Younger Gods (which may be a series or may be a stand alone). This one is sort of familiar territory, but differs enough that it doesn’t feel tired.

So, Leah is trying to make it as a stand-up comic in Baltimore. I didn’t realize that Baltimore was a good place for this, but sure, why not? So, the stand-up isn’t working for her, her day job is as a receptionist and isn’t the basis for a future. So she can’t help but be interested when some mysterious man who seems to appreciate her act approaches her and says:

I’m Dr. Angstrom King, Department of Comparative Literature. I run a narrative immersion laboratory, and I’m looking for new staff. I think you might be an excellent fit.

The reality behind that gobbledygook is tough to explain in a paragraph, but I’ll try — there are several parallel universes to ours (“Earth Prime”), and each of these correlates to a genre in fiction (not just books), so there’s a Science Fiction World, a Romance World, A Horror World, and so on. Each of these universes impacts ours in the narratives we tell each other. And when something goes wrong the World’s narrative, it spills over in our reality. So there’s a group of people like Quantum Leap or Voyagers! who pop in, fix the problem, and pop out once stability to the narrative returns. The people that are aware of these worlds and that travel between are called Genrenauts — catchy, eh?

So, Leah tries it out, traveling to Western World to clean up a sticky situation. While there, she meets some more of King’s team, helps some people out, and get a real baptism by fire into this strange new world. There’s some fun with tropes, character types, a shootout, bad whiskey — pretty much everything you’d want sans a squinty-Eastwood character.

It’s told with a light touch — the debt to Leverage and The Librarians is obvious (and readily acknowledged), with a good dose of action, a hint of a looming catastrophe/conspiracy. There’s a good deal of literary/narrative theory under-girding this whole project — it’s not as frivolous as it may seem.

There’s so much emphasis on the premise of this series, and with the adventure in Western World, that we didn’t get a good introduction to the characters. In addition to Leah, there was King and 2 teammates, some references to a couple of others, 2 people from the Western world. But Leah’s the only one that I could say has more than 1 dimension to them. I’m confident when I say that’ll be taken care of in short order in the future, though. But for now, the team is full of types, not people.

Leah is further on her way to being a fully developed character, primarily a collection of characteristics and tics at the moment — but close. She’s smart, savvy, quick on her feet, a pop culture junkie. Unlike, Ree, Leah’s a professional smart aleck — or aspires to be one, anyway. Not that anyone needs a justification to be quippy and snarky in the face of danger in SF, but it’s nice that she has one. I enjoyed meeting her, and want to get to know her better while watching these collection of characteristics congeal into a character.

I’m giving this 4 Stars, I think it earns a 3 — it’s so pilot episode-y that it’s hard to tell. I really enjoyed it and I’m in for at least a handful of books, so I’ll give it a one-star bump for the premise. I’m eager, really eager, to get the next one.

—–

4 Stars

Hexomancy by Michael R. Underwood

Hexomancy Hexomancy

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Ree Reyes, #3

eBook, 258 pg.

Pocket Star, 2015

Read: September 25, 2015


So, here we are with the third Ree Reyes novel, the 4th adventure for her, and the end of her first character arc (although the only way really know this now is that Underwood keeps saying it — I doubt I’d have been confident enough to say that until the beginning of her next novel/novella), and what a ride we’ve been on so far. Geekomancy was just ridiculously fun — the style, the voice, the magic system pushed just about every one of my buttons. In retrospect, it wasn’t a great novel, but it was so fun that all the weaknesses can be easily overlooked. Celebromancy was a better novel — as far as construction, character, etc. goes, but wasn’t nearly as fun and entertaining. Attack the Geek was action-packed, pretty fun, but (as it was designed to be) not much else. Hexomancy combines all the pluses from the first three, and smashes them together into the best novel Underwood’s given us so far.

In retaliation for the defeat of their sister in Attack, and the resulting consequences that begin this novel — three Strega are coming to town to get their vengeance on. Their target is primarily Eastwood, who is mentor, unnecessary father-figure, and foil (depending on the day) to our new UF hero, but since Ree was integral to Lucretia’s defeat, she’s not exactly safe either. They’ll be coming to town at regular intervals, each one more powerful and deadlier than the last. Like bosses at the end of levels on a video game. You can argue that this part is either hokey, or perfectly fitting to this world, but that’s the way it’s set up (the latter is the correct answer).

And, these Strega are no joke — nasty, powerful and brutal. Eastwood, Drake and Ree (and the occasional other ally) are pushed to their limits when they take them on — physical, creative and moral — like their videogame counterparts (as I understand it, mostly from watching my sons).

Between these boss battles, Ree and the rest recover, level up, and whatnot (I can only pay so much attention to what my sons do, can’t keep the metaphor going). Ree spends time with her friends, in the rebuilt Grognard’s, and in a little romance.

Drake is one of those characters that I think deserves his own post, if I could only find the time. Better yet, he deserves his own stories — either prequels off in his own world, or some running concurrently to this series. His humor, his bravery, his nobility, his heart — not to mention his cool steampunk tools and weapons, — basically he’s the whole package. Really, most people would consider building a series around him, not have him as a sidekick. But he works well in the role.

We didn’t get nearly enough of Ree’s dad this time — her chats with him were a highlight of the last two novels (although, to be honest, when she did talk to him I had one of those “Oh, right, she does this” moments).

Ree and her friends have to be about the most healthy and well-adjusted groups of fictional characters I’ve ever encountered — people like this may exist in Real Life, but not in fiction. It’s like they’ve spent years in group therapy before this. Which is not a bad thing — in fact, it’s pretty refreshing. But that doesn’t keep it from being weird when they react in mature, reasonable manners to various and sundry challenges presented in this novel. If I wasn’t afraid it’d make me seem like a cad, I’d say the magic is easier to believe than they are.*

What about Ree herself? She’s grown into her roll protecting her city, scratching by, keeping her sanity intact (mostly). She’s grown plenty over these four adventures and you can see the results everywhere — thankfully, she’s still as full of snark and verve now as she was when we first meet her. Just a bit wiser, packing a few more XP, and more sure of herself. She barely references her writing now, which is a shame — but hey, her plate’s pretty full.

In his Acknowledgments, Underwood states, “If you keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them”. Sounds like a good deal. I’m in. Keep ’em coming, Mike!


* And I’d say that if it was a group of 4 guys, too, for the record.

—–

4 Stars