This is the second Tor.com novella I’ve read and Mike Underwood has written one of the most entertaining explorations of genre in his exposively fun Shootout Solution. It’s somewhat metafiction, but at the same time, seamlessly integrated into the writing where the self-awareness becomes part of its charm. The novella asks the question: What if the genre worlds were real, teeming, and even dangerous? Storytelling with fangs and real life repercussions, the way they were meant to be.
“Stories are the DNA of the universe.”
Underwood’s Ree Reyes stories have the love for pop culture as a similar fabric, though Leah Tang is a very different protagonist from Ree. I think one thing that shines through in all of Underwood’s stories is a genuine love of genre and narrative. Here, it’s elevated as a brand new dimension alongside time and the spatial reaches.
“The fifth dimension is narrative. In the fifth dimension, Earth is surrounded on all sides by worlds that are simultaneously familiar and irreducibly distinct.”
And the genrenauts inhabit “a whole multiverse of possibility and semio-thematic thingamawhatsits and professional dimensional story doctors jumping between worlds as regularly as corporate troubleshooters.”
There’s so many details, so much love for the material, that the pages are teeming with both passion and deconstruction of the many elements that define a given genre. The first world they visit is the Western world, rife with self-aware tropes and wry commentary like how “There hasn’t been a genre-redefining Western for years. The breaches here tend to be small.” To which Leah asks, “So all the racist storytelling tropes happen in these worlds?” And she is given a curt response, “Pretty much, yes.”
Utilizing the Personal Phase Manipulator, they have problems to solve, including a set of outlaws to which the best solution is a good old fashion shootout. But of course, things get a lot more complicated and it’s that pushing and defying of tropes where Solution really leaps off the page.
As a novella, it’s short and a quick read. When I finished, I wondered after the next world and was left with a tantalizing preview that the next volume would take place in the science fiction world. This is the beginning of what I’m sure is going to be a great series.
I have to admit, one of my biggest and most pleasant shocks was in the Acknowledgements when I read how the film Last Action Hero inspired this book. LAH was actually one of my favorite movies growing up and one of my guilty pleasures that I pretty much never tell anyone for fear of opening myself up to ridicule and disappointment. Thanks Mike for helping me to come out about my love for Last Action Hero, lol.
Then again, it’s this candor, honesty, and joy that is part of Underwood’s literary style and the dimension that ties everything together from time to the width and height of our sensibilities. Call me definitely genrefied. =)