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

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United States of Books – Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove Lonesome Dove

by Larry McMurtry

Author: C.H. Armstrong at C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

When I learned I would have the pleasure of reviewing Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I quite literally did a fist pump of victory. Simply stated, this is one of my all-time favorite novels, and one of the very few I would consider reading more than once. For that reason, I’ll not beat around the bush: I enthusiastically give this novel a full 5-star review. If I could give it more than 5-stars, I most certainly would.

So what’s it about?

I asked this question of those who originally recommended it to me, and the answer I received didn’t inspire enthusiastic thoughts: It’s the story about a bunch of old cowboys who go on a cattle drive.

Huh? How is that even remotely interesting? Why would I want to read about a cattle drive?

The answer is this: Just do it. I promise: You won’t be sorry.

Lonesome Dove is about a cattle drive, but it’s more than that. It’s about the strong ties of friendship between two former Texas Rangers, Captain August “Gus” McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, two men who couldn’t be more different. While Call is stoic and serious, McCrae is often seen as more laid back and carefree. But the truth is that the two men, for all of their differences, are like yen and yang or two sides of the same coin. It’s almost a love story without the romance element. They complement each other and, while they seem to have nothing at all in common, they are simply not the same without the other.

Besides the main characters is a series of supporting cast members who round out the story…a 17 year old boy, the son of a prostitute, who suspects that Call might be his father; a young prostitute, Lorie, who just wants to get out of town; and the reprehensible coward, Jake Spoon, who abandons her and leaves her defenseless against the elements and those who would do her harm.

In truth, I sat down to read this book because I wanted to silence someone who insisted I read it…and so I talked my best friend (700 miles away) into reading it with me, just so I would have some company in what I thought would be a grueling read. To my surprise, it was action-packed, funny, heartbreaking, and truly one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Trust me – you don’t want to miss this book. If you read nothing else this year, pick up a copy of Lonesome Dove. You won’t be sorry!

United States of Books – Doc by Mary Doria Russell

DocDoc

by Mary Doria Russell

Author: Elisha at Rainy Day Reviews

Entertainment Weekly says – Set in the saloons of Dodge City in 1878 before the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, this murder mystery paints Doc Holiday as a tragic hero and gambler, bringing one of the state’s most legendary events and personages to life.

(Courtesy of goodreads)

Born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday arrives on the Texas frontier hoping that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Soon, with few job prospects, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally with his partner, Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung, classically educated Hungarian whore. In search of high-stakes poker, the couple hits the saloons of Dodge City. And that is where the unlikely friendship of Doc Holliday and a fearless lawman named Wyatt Earp begins–before the gunfight at the O.K. Corral links their names forever in American frontier mythology when neither man wanted fame or deserved notoriety

I have to say, I had heard of this book, was told about this book, but never read the book. Until now. The synopsis was intriguing yet kept an air of mystery. I was even more intrigued and excited to read this book after finding out it was based off of a true story. I love a good non-fiction read, and this did not disappoint. Set in western Texas during the frontier, Doc Holliday makes his name known through gambling with his co-conspirators. Then, there’s a twist among all the other twists in the story…a murder. Or was it a murder?

I loved the thick plot, the western touch, the “old days” feel, the relationships…especially with Doc’s “special” on again-off again friend. I found this story very interesting and it did captivate my attention. I was worried it wouldn’t because I am not a fan of a lot of westerns, I am a bit picky in that area. But all in all, it was really good and I would definitely recommend this story.

(fwiw, I had a few things to say about this a couple of years ago)

United States of Books – Close Range (Audiobook) by Annie Proulx

Close RangeClose Range: Wyoming Stories

by Annie Proulx

Author: Teri at Sportochick’s Musings

2 Stars Book
4 Stars Narrators

Synopsis

Annie Proulx’s masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kinds of love. In “The Mud Below”, a rodeo rider’s obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In “The Half-Skinned Steer”, an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother’s funeral, and dies a mile from home. In “Brokeback Mountain”, the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world’s violent intolerance.

These are stories of desperation, hard times, and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both brutal and magnificent. Enlivened by folk tales, flights of fancy, and details of ranch and rural work, they juxtapose Wyoming’s traditional character and attitudes, confrontation of tough problems, prejudice, persistence in the face of difficulty, with the more benign values of the new west.

This collection includes:

  • “The Half-Skinned Steer”, read by Bruce Greenwood
  • “A Lonely Coast”, read by Frances Fisher
  • “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water”, read by Campbell Scott
  • “The Mud Below”, read by Bruce Greenwood
  • “The Blood Bay”, read by Campbell Scott
  • “The Bunch-Grass Edge of the World”, read by Frances Fisher
  • “Brokeback Mountain”, read by Campbell Scott

Review

The best part of the book as far as the stories go was Brokeback Mountain. A movie was made from that story and it won 3 Oscars. I never saw the movie so I can’t give a review on the differences between the two though. This story walks the reader through a relationship between two cowboys that last years. While written with a slow western pace it shows how these two love each other through the years and opens the readers heart to their love for each other and their families.

As for the other stories, I understand that there are many people in the world that love this type of writing and I am afraid to say it is not me. I love to read for pleasure and to escape reality. This book is written in a harsh, blunt, no nonsense style. It was for me too brutal and depressing regarding how women and family were treated.

The narrators were great but hearing it instead of reading it made it much worse for me because it was so much more vivid. I know the old days were very rough but yikes this was so graphic it had me cringing.

For all you people out there that like this kind of reading I am sure you would rate it much higher than I did.

So will you give this a try and form your own decision?

United States of Books – True Grit by Charles Portis

True GritTrue Grit

by Charles Portis

Author: Wattle at Whimsical Nature

3 Stars
Synopsis: There is no knowing what lies in a man’s heart. On a trip to buy ponies, Frank Ross is killed by one of his own workers. Tom Chaney shoots him down in the street for a horse, $150 cash, and two Californian gold pieces. Ross’s unusually mature and single-minded fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie travels to claim his body, and finds that the authorities are doing nothing to find Chaney. Then she hears of Rooster – a man, she’s told, who has grit – and convinces him to join her in a quest into dark, dangerous Indian territory to hunt Chaney down and avenge her father’s murder.

Review: I must admit, I saw this on my list of books to read and sighed. I hate westerns, and had the misfortune (in my opinion) of seeing half of the most recent movie based on True Grit. So it was with dread that I opted to read it first, deciding to read in order of least want to read to most interesting.

How wrong was I?! The writing sucked me in from the start, it wasn’t stuffy and formal as I assumed it would be. However, at times the dialogue felt a bit stilted; and the deeper into the story I got, the more I realised that it had no real complexity. It is simply about wanting revenge to (in Mattie’s eyes) right a wrong.

Mattie is feisty and strong willed. She felt older than her 14 years, no doubt because of the setting she was in; the late 1800s, her father has been killed and she’s the oldest child, so needs to take care of his affairs. Which in her mind, means finding her father’s killer and watching him die. To do this she needs help, and sets out to recruit the best and worst Marshal she can find – which leads her to the drunken and often too quick to shoot Rooster Cogburn.

I liked Rooster (what you see is what you get, and he’s a bit of a brute – though showed great patience with Mattie) and did not like LaBoeuf (an arrogant Texas Ranger who happens to be after the same man).

It was a fine story, but the ending to their adventure felt contrived – and I can’t say I was a fan of the ending proper either. I felt a little cheated that all we really got of Mattie was her experience as a 14 year old, and then many years in the future, and nothing in between. I suppose there was some character growth for her throughout the story, given she had just lost her father and wanted justice; but it was somewhat lost in the details of the story.

Not being from Arkansas (or even America) I have absolutely no idea what the place is like, but I got the feeling that back in the 1800s it was a bit dusty and a bit rundown, with lands that criminals could easily disappear into? There was apparently quite a few of them in the same place (which I suppose is fortunate for the Marshals tracking people).

All in all, this was a quick and easy read but didn’t have the complexity I was expecting and fell a little short for me, but it was still a good read and got me out of my comfort zone!

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

Dusted Off: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

DocDoc

by Mary Doria Russell
Hardcover, 394 pg.
Random House, 2013
Read: June 9-13, 2012

I was almost 100 pages into this novel when the thought occurred to me how extraordinarily careful Russell was in the way she put this together. Not that I think most authors are sloppy or anything, but the effort to make sure every piece, every word, every event was placed juuuust so was very evident.

The result of all this care is a heckuva novel about the years and events leading up to Wyatt & Morgan Earp heading to Tombstone with their good buddy Doc Holliday. Warm, exciting, brutal–this novel reads like a fast-paced biography. Really, really well written–there are a couple of times that Russell overplays her hand and gets downright manipulative, and at least once she almost lost me while doing so.

I’m glad I stuck it out tho’, the climax was as heart-breaking as it was heart-warming, and the coda put a nice little bow on the whole thing. Well worth the time and effort.

—–

4 Stars