“Laughter At The Academy” stories 4-6: “Uncle Sam”, “Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage”, “Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust” by Seanan McGuire

“Laughter At The Academy” is a collection of twenty-one of Seanan McGuire’s short stories, published between 2009 and 2017.

As Seanan Mcguire puts it:

“This isn’t necessarily ‘The Best Of,’ but it’s the pieces that I love most, that I most want to share.”

These are all standalone stories. I’m going to review them individually as I read the collection. Here are the fourth, fifth and sixth stories. They cover a lot of ground. The only things they have in common are their originality and their ability to stick in the memory like throwing knives in the bark of a tree.

“Uncle Sam” is a bullet story, something written to deliver a single idea with maximum speed and maximum impact.

The writing is sparse but the idea is a beauty.

This is not the Uncle Sam who is normally spoken of, although, now I know who he is, a lot more things make sense.

This story also answers the always baffling to men question (who stand silent in such places and pretend to be alone): “Why do women go to the restroom together?”

“Crystal Halloway And The Forgotten Passage” is a camoulfaged story that isn’t at all what it seems to be. Like life itself, it starts off filled with boundless optimism and then, at some point, you hit reality like a fly hitting a windsrceen.

This is “Narnia” for the serious-minded or perhaps just those aware of what they’ve lost,

My favourite part of the story is where young, brave Crystal Halloway is asked:

“Haven’t you ever noticed how so many people seem to walk around empty inside, like there’s a hole cut out of the middle of them, a space where something used to be, and isn’t anymore?”

If this is something you’ve noticed, this story is for you… if you’re brave enough.

As McCoy might have said to Kirk, “It’s Oz, Jim but not as we know it.”

It may be heresy to say so, but I’m not a fan of the Oz stories. They don’t resonate with me at all. It’s clear though that Seanan McGuire gets them and loves them and is then willing completely to reimagine them. The result is something that does resonate with me – sort of “Oz Noir” with Dorothy, or Dot as she is to her friends, in the role of gumshoe.

In this version, the politics of Oz are like politics anywhere, driven by self-interest, shaped by pragmatism and draped in glory. Oz has an immigration problem. The problem mostly being that it would prefer immigrants didn’t exist and so, instead of integrating them, it marginalises them. The result is a shantytown, the politics of blame, corruption and of course drug trafficking. The immigrants are called “Crossovers” because they’ve all reached Oz by crossing the desert. Dot: imigrant, witch, former Palace favourite and current Crossover Ambassador, is caught in the middle of all this as she investigates a murder.

I admired the way Seanan McGuire captures the reaction of the privileged Ozites to the Crossovers in one idea: green-tinted glasses:

“The City of Emeralds, which was now the Emerald City in nothing but name; only the oldest, richest denizens still wore their green-tinted glasses, updated with a special enchantment that made anyone who wasn’t born in Oz disappear completely. This led to a few collisions on the streets, but as far as they were concerned, it was worth it. For them, the Emerald City was still the pristine paradise it had been before the crossovers came. For the rest of us…”

This version of Dorothy, all grown up and with the scars to prove it, is someone I’d like to know better. I hope that Seanan McGuire finds the time to return to her one day.

In the meantime, I’m going to be looking at more of the “Oz Reimagined” series, starting with “The Lost Girls Of Oz” by Theodora Goss

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