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

The Shootout SolutionThe Shootout Solution

by Michael R. Underwood, Mary Robinette Kowal
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

The Shootout Solution by Michael R. Underwood

The Shootout Solution The Shootout Solution

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, Episode 1

Kindle, 148 pg., 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