(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite, as performed by Eddie Izzard (Spotify, YouTube).
I must confess that, when I first read the synopsis of The Shootout Solution (well, and also when I read it for the second and third time) I was not especially attracted by this novella. OK, I thought, yet another metafictional story with characters living in a movie, novel or whatever without their knowing it. It also reminded me of Redshirts, by John Scalzi, which has a somehow similar plot and that is, to put it mildly, not one of my favorite novels of the last few years.
However, my experiences with the novellas published by Tor.com so far have been (as I explain here in Spanish) mostly very positive, so when I had the chance to read an ARC of The Shootout Solution, I decided to give it a try (also encouraged by the fact that novellas take just one or two days to read, so the investment is not that risky as with a fully-fleshed novel). And though some of my concerns where validated a little bit, my overall impression was much, much better than I expected.
It is true that the worldbuilding of the novella is not very original. A secret agency is in charge of controlling that a number of parallel worlds don't deviate from the clichés of the genres they are based on, for that brings catastrophes to our own Earth. We have, for instance, Fantasy worlds, Romance worlds, Science Fiction worlds and a Western world (most of the plot of The Shootout Solution is set on the latter, with future installments of the series happening in other, different worlds). In each of them, the lives of its inhabitants follows a script with all the tropes you can expect from the particular genre, and only the agents that can travel between them know the true nature of reality.
"There's no genre awareness here. All of the tropes, the archetypes, they're just a way of life. You've got to roll with it, use it. We come to these places and we can see two steps ahead - it gives is the edge."
Thus, here we find bits and pieces of works such as the aforementioned Redshirts or The Last Action Hero (yes, that movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), something that is acknowledged by Underwood both explicitly in the afterword and implicitly in the novella itself.
However, and despite the plot also being quite straightforward and some of the geeky jokes being not that funny, the author manages to add some elements that make The Shootout Solution standout. For a story that is mainly about protecting the clichés in order to save the world, it is really interesting how Underwood subverts those very same clichés in a natural and fresh way and openly criticizes the overused tropes common to most genres:
"(...) Western world is usually one of the most dormant, the most stable," Shirin said. "There hasn't been a genre-redefining Western for years. The breaches here tend to be small."
In fact, the main plot twist in the novella goes completely against both the clichés of the Western and the expectations of the reader, and was to me, the most satisfying element of this work and, at the same time, a declaration of intent on Underwood's part of where the Genrenauts series is heading.
All in all, The Shootout Solution is a fun and light read that defies some genre clichés and that sets the tone for what promises to be a very interesting series of novellas. A new installment, with the title of The Absconded Ambassador and set in the Science Fiction world, has already been announced for February 2016 and I will, most probably, be reading it and reviewing it here.