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?

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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).

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5 Stars