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Michael R Underwood’s THE ABSCONDED AMBASSADOR Plays With Genre Tropes to Wonderful Effect

REVIEW SUMMARY: The 2nd entry into the world of Genrenauts builds the concept in excellent ways.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The Genrenauts team find themselves dealing with intrigue and adventure on a space station when technology failure across the globe offers a clue that things are wrong in the Science Fiction world.

PROS: Excellent development and focus on core concept; good refinement of character development singularly and as a team.
CONS: Although designed as such, the second novella builds on the first more than being a standalone story.
BOTTOM LINE: A very strong second entry for the Genrenauts.

This time on Genrenauts: The Absconded Ambassador! The Big Peace Treaty being signed on the space station of Ahura 3 has seen a massive setback as its author has been kidnapped. Not only will the galaxy be at war again if the treaty not signed, but the effects on our own main reality of Earth will be catastrophic. Rookie Leah Tang, fresh off of her first mission to the Western World, must join the Genrenauts team for a foray into the Science Fiction World to rescue The Absconded Ambassador.

The Genrenauts concept from Mike R. Underwood marries his love of genre fiction, its narrative tropes, and meta structures with world-traveling. The Genrenauts travel to Fictional Realms whose narrative stories and characters feed back on our world. When the stories in these fictional realms go haywire, it affects our world in narratively appropriate ways. A big romance story gone wrong, for example, is going to lead to a lot of divorces, relationship problems and maybe even “Romeo and Juliet” style suicides. So the Genrenauts mission is to leap into these stories, find out where they are going wrong, fix them, and then make the leap home. Our to-date primary character is Leah, a newbie to the Genrenauts team.

Above the characters and the crackling, lean in-and-out story that makes this a swift and satisfying read, the book is replete with references, allusions, tie-ins and connections to science fiction. Just as the first novel went all-in with regards to what Westerns are and what make them work, this second episode of Genrenauts explores space science fiction. Leah Tang is a geek and a genre nerd. If I was thrown onto Ahura 3 in Science Fiction World, I would suddenly be thinking in terms of Downbelow Station, Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine and wouldn’t be shy of saying so. Above and beyond overt references and allusions, the nature of Ashura-3 itself — the characters, races and setup — are all reminiscent of a particular spectrum of science fiction. I find myself wishing to rewatch things like Babylon 5, again, now with a more practiced eye for the forms and building blocks that Underwood exposes and repurposes here for his own purpose. In a real sense, the author’s novellas help make me a reader more cognizant and aware of conventions and devices in genre fiction, making me a savvier reader for it.

This novella confirms and dovetails with something I picked up in the first novella: that something is brewing in Underwood’s universe, larger than even the Genrenauts organization seems to realize. This balance of character and reader knowledge is an interesting tension to try and pull off and I really want to see where the author goes with this. How genre-savvy will the Genrenauts team turn out to be when things really hit the fan?

My only real objection to the concept is that the effort into trying to make this single story stand alone does seem to be a little bit unrewarded. While the basic idea of a plug-and-play, jump-in-at-any-point format does seem like a good idea in theory, the reading experience here without the first novella doesn’t quite work as well as it might. I therefore strongly encourage readers to check out The Call to Adventure in the first Genrenauts novella, The Shootout Solution, by which time you will be more than eager to pick up with The Absconded Ambassador. As for I, I impatiently await the chance to mainline the next Genrenauts adventure from Mike R. Underwood.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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