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.

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 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