Cover and interior illustrations by Carla McNeil.
From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.
This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.
From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
“McGuire shows off the versatility and creativity that have become her hallmarks in this excellent selection of stories from the past decade. All McGuire’s passions—medical marvels and terrors, apocalyptic scenarios, mermaids, portal fantasies—are on full display, each offering a window into a world of possibility and complicated emotions… Reading it is like opening a box of candy and never knowing which sweet little treat will destroy civilization as we know it.”
From Library Journal (Starred Review):
“McGuire’s familiar voice, engrossing prose, and assured realization of human emotion will make this a cover-to-cover read for many. Current and future fans of the multi-award-winning McGuire will find this stunning collection a feast for the heart and mind.”
“McGuire’s first collection of stories doesn’t include anything from her pre-existing universes, but it is nonetheless a stellar snapshot of her skills as a storyteller and of the recurring themes in her work… This will be a welcome collection for fans, but it has the breadth to just as easily serve as an introduction for new readers.”
“Full of chills, thrills, dark laughter, karmic justice, and the occasional spot of hope.”
Table of Contents:
- Laughter at the Academy: A Field Study in the Genesis Of Schizotypal Creative Genius Personality Disorder (SCGPD)
- The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells
- Uncle Sam
- Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust
- Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage
- Frontier ABCs: The Life and Times Of Charity Smith, Schoolteacher
- We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War
- The Lambs
- Each to Each
- Bring About the Halloween Eternal!!!
- Office Memos
- Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare
- Driving Jenny Home
- There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold
- In Skeleton Leaves
- Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies for What Is About to Happen (But You Started It)
- Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, At the End of the World
- From A to Z In the Book of Changes
- #connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere
- Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves
Fact: this is my first single author short story collection. (For the pedantic among us, yes, there has been a collection of work published under my other name, Mira Grant, but that isn’t the same.) All these stories take place outside my pre-existing universes—so no Fighting Pumpkins, no October Daye, no Velveteen. They are quick glimpses of another room, with a door that will close in short order.
Fact: all these stories were originally published between 2009 and 2017. This isn’t everything from that time period, just the pieces I felt made the best contiguous whole. They span the length of my career so far. This is the first time many of them have been reprinted, making this the most convenient way for new readers to get a taste of what I do. I’ve done some light editing to the earlier stories, mostly so I don’t cringe when I see someone holding a copy of this book, but they are, on the whole, as they were first released.
If these are old familiar friends to you, welcome. I hope I’ve chosen the stories you would have wanted to see, and if not, I hope you’ll look at the pieces that might not have made your list with fresh eyes. It’s possible that they’ll surprise you. This isn’t necessarily “the best of,” but it’s the pieces I love most, that I’m most eager to share.
The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells
POINT OF INFECTION +61 DAYS
I suppose there are things one can only learn through experience; the fever is coming on faster than expected, making it difficult to organize my thoughts. In the distance, I can hear them ringing, louder than the sirens, louder than the screams. Can you hear them, my daughters?
Can you hear the bells?
POINT OF INFECTION +50 DAYS
They hold my trial in absentia; an empty gesture intended to placate the screaming public. The growing silence outside the courthouse walls only serves to illustrate the pointlessness of the proceedings. It takes three days to present the evidence: the charts, the lab results, the videos. It would take longer, but after the fourth prosecutor fails to return from recess, the court decides to pass judgment on the case as it stands. There is enough—more than enough—to convict.
Each time the court is called to order, they add the name of every person who succumbed to my daughters between sessions to the charges already against me. More than enough.
I am found guilty of treason, fraud, bioterrorism, and sixteen million counts of murder. The sentence is broadcast over every channel and every radio frequency in the world, in every language someone might be listening for. No one cheers. There would be no point.
They all know that they’ve been beaten.
Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust
The pillows were cool when I woke up, but they still smelled of Polychrome—fresh ozone and petrichor, sweeter than a thousand flowers. I swore as I got out of bed and crossed to the window, opening the curtains to reveal a sky the sunny fuck-you color of a Munchkin swaddling cloth. There was no good reason for the sky to be that violently blue this time of year—no good reason but Ozma, who was clearly getting her pissy bitch on again.
Sometimes I miss the days when all I had to deal with were wicked witches and natural disasters and ravenous beasts who didn’t mean anything personal when they devoured you whole. Embittered fairy princesses are a hell of a lot more complicated.
I showed the sky my middle finger, just in case Ozma was watching—and Ozma’s always watching—before closing the curtains again. I was up, and my girlfriend was once again banished from the Land of Oz by unseasonably good weather, courtesy of my ex. Time to get ready to face whatever stupidity was going to define my day.
As long as it didn’t involve any Ozites, I’d be fine.
The Life and Times of Charity Smith, Schoolteacher
A IS FOR AMMUNITION
There are no banks to rob in this painted doll of a dustbowl fantasy town; the money is all bits and bytes stored in a computer vault no human hands can open, whether they belong to banker or bandit. But there are other forms of thievery to be practiced by the quick and the clever, and Cherry is both, when she sees call to be. So when word goes out on the down-low that the Mulrian gang is planning a heist and needs bullets to get them to the finish line, Cherry’s first to the cattle call, her guns low and easy on her hips, her hair braided like an admonition against untidiness. They’re surprised to see her—aren’t they always, when she shows up in places like this?—but they’re willing enough to let her on the crew once they’ve seen what she can do.
She doesn’t brag much. Doesn’t talk much either, outside of a classroom or a courtroom. But oh, that little lady in the worn-out britches and the red flannel shirt can shoot like she made a bargain with the God of All Guns. Some folks say as she was a sniper in the last war. There have been wars upon wars since she showed up on the scene, and it’s always “the last war.” No one knows how old she is, no one knows the name of her home world, and no one’s sure when she’s finally going to snap and take out her allies along with her enemies. But they keep taking her on, because she makes the bullets dance to her tune. Could shoot the wings off a fly, the flame off a candle, and the fat off of a hog.
The raid begins at local midnight. Four techslingers, four gunslingers, a pilot, and Cherry, all walking into town from different directions, all heading for the places they’re supposed to be. The first shot is fired at two past the hour, an old-fashioned gunpowder bullet smashing through the window of city hall. That’s the signal. The gunslingers commence to shooting the things they’ve been approved to shoot—mostly foliage and buildings and the police bots that come swinging down the sidewalks like they stand a chance against flesh and lead and practice—and the techslingers slide their clever wires into the datastream, bleeding off billions in less time than it takes for Cherry to reload.
That’s her on the roof of the library, stretched flat with her scope circling her eye like a wedding ring. Every shot she takes is true, and she takes a lot of them. Nobody dies, but there’s enough damaged as to take the edge off. Then the bell rings in her ear, and she rolls away from the edge of the roof, vanishing into the shadows. Fun’s over.
Tip to tail, they took six minutes to bleed the beast, leaving shattered glass and frightened townies behind like a calling card. Cherry will check her bank balance later and find a healthy payoff from an uncle she doesn’t have, on an outworld that may or may not exist. It doesn’t matter to her. She’s worked off a little of her aggression here, in the shadows and the dust, and that leaves her head clear enough for the real work to begin.
- Carla McNeil
- Seanan McGuire
- eBook Edition