Review of The Absconded Ambassador by Michael R. Underwood (Tor.com, February 23, 2016)
This is the second episode of Genrenauts, the multiple-world-hopping adventures of Leah. This time she and her crewmates are off to sort out a breach in a science fiction setting. They go to Ahura-3, in the space opera region. Ahura-3 is a hub for ships and commerce from dozens of species with thousands of languages and variances both cultural and biological; this is not exactly a good operation location for a newbie like Leah. She has to remain with and take instructions from another agent.
Leah thoroughly enjoys her first time in freefall, and soon finds herself on a massive space station. Her first thoughts are that it’s an airport terminal mixed with a Star Wars-style cantina, which probably would describe any space station inhabited by multiple species. She gets to use a cool wearable tablet but she is not as happy about the culture requiring her to wear heavy makeup.
The crew of their ship, the Free Trader Grendel, is known about the station because they have been there three times in the last two years. Everyone splits up to put their ears to the ground in different places to try and identify the breach. Nothing seems amiss when they dock, but as soon as Leah steps into the range of a view-screen she gets a hint, because the big local story relates to all the traffic changes due to the signing of an alliance later in the week. Soon she and Shirin are schmoozing a local contact, with Leah trying to follow her lead so she keeps out of trouble in this fantastic new place.
Leah’s good instincts help them to solve the problem and the team splits up to handle two locations at once. This gives the reader a chance to learn some background on other team members, knowledge which Leah doesn’t have. They all have a great deal of history and experience so every adventure reveals more hints of their pasts. What Leah will make of it when she learns everyone’s story will make for interesting reading.
Having Roman and King traveling off together gives a definite good cop/bad cop feel to their adventures as well as showing how well they work together from experience. Shirin and Roman definitely have different working styles, and neither does the other’s way very easily, so having them lead separate activities gives the reader a chance to learn more about what the team does as a whole. Both activities lead to explorations of facets of the culture and races of the setting, and so are really interesting to science fiction readers. The larger and more interesting the universe inhabited by the characters in a space adventure is, the more interested readers will be in returning to it. Your Humble Reviewers love this large, complex, multi-cultural, multi-species setting and so hope that Leah visits it frequently!