Book review: Genrenauts episode 2 (The Absconded Ambassador), by Michael R Underwood

4 01 2018

Michael R Underwood (whose portrait Google unhelpfully pairs with the bio of another, now demised Michael Underwood)

MichaelUnderwood_mistakenidentity

is a still-living American SF author, publishing manager, and SF podcast co-host. His books include Shield and Crocus, The Younger Gods, and Geekomancy.

TheAbscondedAmbassador

Underwood’s Genrenauts novella series is premised on the conceit that the ‘real world’ (Earth Prime) is metaphysically connected to a number of alternate worlds, in each of which the tropes of a given fiction genre (western, romance, SF, etc.) hold sway, and that travel to these genre worlds is possible—indeed, necessary on occasion, so as to restore ‘balance’ on Earth Prime when a ‘breach’ occurs. As a consequence, each volume (‘episode’) of Genrenauts plays with the literary furniture of its chosen genre. Episode 2, The Absconded Ambassador, deals with SF.

The book’s plot is reasonably straightforward: the Terran ambassador to Ahura-3, a large multi-species space station and trading hub nestled in the ‘space opera’ zone of the SF realm, has apparently been kidnapped, on the eve of the planned signing of an important treaty which would cement peaceful relations between most of the known spacefaring species. A four-person Genrenauts team—essentially, three seasoned professionals and rookie ex-Improv performer Leah Tang—is dispatched from Earth Prime to rescue the ambassador and restore order to the Galaxy. The book’s tone is light, moderately tongue-in-cheek, and reasonably fast-paced; it edges more towards the side of inter-character banter than significant action or high-tension suspense. It’s entertaining, and the trope-acknowledging fourth-wall-breaking is generally amusing, but I felt in some places that its carefully constructed veneer of genericity robbed it of some of the pathos that a more sharply specific work would have had. (On the other hand, that same genericity probably makes the story more accessible to out-of-genre readers, which seems appropriate for the concept behind the series.)

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