BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Stand up comic Leah is recruited to work with an organization exploring and fixing story-based parallel dimensions whose well being impinge on Earth.
PROS: Bright, strong idea executed on a variety of levels.
CONS: Initial story feels a smidge short
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent start to an exciting series, and another highlight of Tor’s novella program.
Metafiction is a hard trick to pull off well. Stories about stories is a baroque art that goes back at least to Don Quixote and Tristam Shandy, if not earlier. Shandon Silverlock wound up in the Commonwealth of letters, meeting Robin Hood, Beowulf and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, when he wasn’t stealing Huck Finn’s raft.
One of the new novellas from Tor.com Publishing, Mike Underwood’s Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution provides a modern look at metafiction, with the protagonist and her compatriots literally inserting themselves into parallel dimensions run by the conventions of stories.
Leah is a stand up comic who is not getting many laughs. Her understanding of story and structure, however, brings her to the attention of The Genrenauts Foundation, and she’s given a chance to fix stories from the inside. It turns out that in the world of the Universe, parallel dimensions impinging on Earth, partake of the strictures and structures of stories. There are a number of worlds, based on genre: Science Fiction world, Romance world, and, the first world we visit in the series (and in this volume) Western World.
The importance of archetype dominated worlds is that the stories in these universes sometimes go wrong. Since these are the stories and myths of our own Earth, there is a feedback between these worlds and their stories, and our own Earth. When stories go off the rails, there is a feedback that affects Earth which corresponds to the nature of the story and how it precisely breaks. Its a high concept that gives a large canvas for the author to explore story worlds, and delve into the meaning, nature, and the fundamental importance of story.
The cast of characters beyond Leah, both within the Foundation itself and within the Western World we visit, is diverse and interesting. The Genrenauts team feels like a team put together today from all walks and strata of life, and I particularly look forward to learning more about the various members going forward.
The characters themselves are extremely genre-savvy and culture-infused, and that comes across well on the page. However, to me, it feels that there is just a bit of the story missing. In seeing my progress through the book, I expected one more “turn” before the denouement, and that slight imbalance picked at me for the remainder of the reading experience in a minor way.
While there are plenty of metafictional ties I could make to Genrenrauts, the touchstone for Underwood’s series, as a concept, is in the gonzo roleplaying game world of Glorantha. In the flat-world (actually the face of a cube) fantasy world Glorantha, there are a myriad of Gods, powers, and divine traditions. They are all true, and they all impinge on matters great and small. Heroquesting, in the Glorantha universe, is a process where individuals can enter into the powerful and important myths of their people, city, culture. Like in Genrenauts, this is often to fix something that has had strong negative feedback into the mundane world. In order to fix the world, one has to enter into and help the myth hit the right story notes, and come to the right conclusion. The heroine has to win the heart of the ice cold princess, the monster must be slain, the town needs to be saved, and in doing all this, the real world is healed. For me, the Genrenauts in Mike Underwood’s universe are modern world Heroquesters.
Given the excellent and appealing high concept, and given the strong execution it, I eagerly look forward to future novellas set in the Genrenauts universe. It feels very much in the same wheelhouse as Underwood’s similarly metafiction Ree Reyes -Mancy verse, and fans of one are likely to find favor with the either.