Seanan McGuire has long been one of the premier voices in weird fiction, both under her own name and the pseudonym Mira Grant, from hardboiled supernatural detective fiction to young adult novels that answer the question of what happens after children return from their supernatural adventures. Laughter at the Academy is a collection of her short stories published under the McGuire name. The title invokes that old mad scientist cliche, “They laughed at me at the academy, but I’ll show them all!” And, indeed, McGuire does show us what she can do with her stories, building up tales of space westerns and evil toys, Peter Pan and Dorothy Gale, science and superstition.
McGuire can fold together humor and horror, as seen in perhaps the best story in the collection—“Bring About the Halloween Eternal!!!”—a tale told in Kickstarter posts about a pair of witches trying to reshape the world in honor of their favorite times of year. McGuire loves mermaids, as those who have read her Rolling in the Deep series will know, and they swim their way through the collection. But even the mundane tuna fish is the basis for a tale of deep tragedy in the heartbreaking “Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, At the End of the World.”
Like Harlan Ellison before her, McGuire prefaces each story with a short introduction explaining how it came to be and, in some cases, what it means to her (“Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” just might become a trilogy, she suggests).
McGuire’s strength is not just in her versatility, but in the compassion she has for her characters. They may suffer or die, but she is never callous with their lives. She feels their basic humanity, even when they are not human, and thus the readers do as well. Readers of science fiction and fantasy who have not yet encountered Seanan McGuire will find this book a good sampler of her talents, while long-term fans will be delighted to see all her gifts on display. Laughter at the Academy is a gem of a collection from a mistress of her trade.