Title: Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution
Author: Michael R Underwood
Published: Out now
Leah Tang just died on stage. Well, not literally. Not yet.
Leah’s stand-up career isn’t going well. But she understands the power of fiction, and when she’s offered employment with the mysterious Genrenauts Foundation, she seen discovers that literally dying on stage is a hazard of the job!
Her first assignment takes her to a Western world. When a cowboy tale slips off its rails and the outlaws start to win, it’s up to Leah – and the Genrenauts team – to nudge the story back on track and prevent a catastrophe on Earth.
But the story’s hero isn’t interested in winning, and the safety of Earth hangs in the balance…
The fantastical concept of The Shootout Solution is one which will appeal to bookworms everywhere. There isn’t a single one of us who’d pass up the chance to physically visit our favourite genres and troubleshoot stories going awry, and Leah Tang is no different. When the head of the Genrenauts team, Dr Angstrom King, invites her to visit his Immersive Narrative Laboratory and join the team, she accepts. Albeit cautiously, because she is by no means stupid.
Leah’s first assignment is in the Wild West where she, King and teammates Shirin and Roman must persuade a reluctant hero to do the heroic thing as required by the story. Underwood has a huge amount of fun using his very self-aware characters to play with common clichés and tropes of both wild-west and sci-fi stories; for instance, Leah is quick to point out that “Westerns aren’t exactly known for their diversity. Black guy, Asian woman and a Middle Eastern woman wander into a saloon, people are going to notice. And then make a joke. And then shoot us”. With discussions around diversity in books a very hot topic at the moment, The Shootout Solution manages to simultaneously act as a love letter to books and point out when they’re actually being old-fashioned and embarrassingly narrow-minded, like an elderly relative who thinks Idris Elba can’t be Bond.
That being said, the diversity of the characters is the least interesting thing about them as they easily transcend their labels to become a team you will want to hang out with. Our protagonist Leah is my own personal favourite; tiny, gutsy and with a mouth quicker than the fastest gun in the West, she proves to be a natural genrenaut, and is quick to realise that, rather encouragingly, sometimes heroes are found in unexpected places. King is a steady and almost unflappable leader who never loses his faith in Leah, while Shirin is patient and kind when Leah, not realising that Shirin is trans, has an awkward moment of foot in mouth. The quieter, more experienced members of the team are a perfect foil for Leah’s amusingly snarky inner monologue while also providing context and raising interesting questions about the broader world of the Genrenauts.
Thanks to the likes of Jasper Fforde and Genevieve Cogman, the idea of characters inserting themselves into books and visiting stories isn’t perhaps as fresh as it was a decade or so ago; however, the twist here is that when stories go wrong, there is a ripple effect on reality. The stakes have been significantly lifted with the knowledge that if Leah fails in her mission, she could end up being responsible for damage and even death in her own world – our world. The added pressure combined with the mystery of why problems in the bookverse are becoming increasingly worse, along with the deafening lack of answers from King’s shadowy bosses, make The Shootout Solution feel like a much darker and more dangerous world than Tuesday’s or Irene’s.
A Tardis of a novella, The Shootout Solution is packed full of ideas with as many questions left unanswered. I’m very happy to see that more adventures with the Genrenauts have been announced – particularly since while I’m not personally fond of Westerns, the beauty of the Genrenauts is that the concept allows the team to visit, challenge and subvert any number of other stories, worlds and genres. The possibilities are endless.
With The Shootout Solution, Tor.com continues to blaze a bookish trail in terms of both originality and diversity. More like this, please.
GS Rating: 4/5
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)