The Shootout Solution by Michael R Underwood

Rating 8.0/10
Shows the promise of what might be a fantastic serial.

The Shootout Solution by Michael R. Underwood is the first "episode" in the Genrenauts serial by Michael R. Underwood. The book is standard novella length, coming in at around 150 pages, so bigger than what you normally get per episode in a serial. I'm really enjoying this length of story at the moment as I can get through a story in a couple of days as work / children / life permits.

The Shootout Solution introduces a universe where a "narrative" dimension exists, where any and every literary genre you can think of has its own world. There is sci-fi world, fantasy world, and the setting for this episode - wild west world. The story follows Leah Tang, a stand-up comic struggling to maintain a steady gig. After a particularly bad gig, Leah is approach by a man who offers her a job as a consultant for the Genrenauts, a team of people who travel to the narrative dimension to fix problems with stories. They are currently having a problem in the wild west world, which is resulting in an increase to the number of shootings in the real world, and they need Leah's help to resolve the story issues and stabilise the dimension.

Reading this book I was immediately reminded of the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, only this book seems to be far more meta than the Thursday Next books. The Shootout Solution provides very overt references to Campbell and the Hero's Journey, with chapter titles like The Inciting Incident, and with character's quoting elements of the Hero's Journey like "Refusal of the call". The Genrenauts are essentially playing the role of a literary editor / script doctor - their job is to fix problems with the stories without being seen. This is quite interesting, but at times there seems to be a lot of author in-jokes that may or may not fly over readers heads. That said, I love the premise, I loved the way the story played out, and I want to see what happens when Underwood starts exploring other worlds for other genres.

One thing I have to mention in this book is diversity, specifically that Underwood seems to be screaming from the rooftops "look at how diverse my story is!!!" On the one hand this story is providing some accurate social commentary - I'm glad Underwood is being so upfront with the diversity in this book because there is a problem with diversity in speculative fiction and someone needs to start the conversation. On the other hand, Underwood is so heavy handed with his approach to diversity that it struggles to come across as sincere. Being introduced to characters (no matter how awesome they might be) felt like I was checking boxes on a diversity proforma - there's the "Asian female", there's the "Black professor", there's the "Indian technician with a disability", there's the "Iranian Trans woman", and there is the "same-sex marriage proposal". Like I said, these characters may or may not turn out to be awesome, but the problem is the focus is taken off these characters as people, and put directly on Underwood and the message he is trying to communicate. There just needed to be more subtlety, a little more nuance to his approach, and we would be having a conversation about who these characters actually are and why they are or are not awesome.

In the end, my experience with The Shootout Solution was a positive experience. Underwood has stacked his book with pop-culture references in the vein of Ready Player One, to tell a story that seems to merge Thursday Next with Quantum Leap (with a touch of Sliders for good measure). Regardless of what you think about Underwood's approach to diversity, the story here is great and shows the promise of what might be a fantastic serial.

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