Delve: verb (used without object), delved, delving.
1. to carry on intensive and thorough research for data, information, or the like; investigate:
to delve into the issue of prison reform.
2. Archaic. to dig, as with a spade.
verb (used with object), delved, delving.
3. Archaic. to dig; excavate.
Synonyms: research, inquire, probe, examine, explore.
I admit it: I am fascinated by Seanan McGuire’s productivity and creativity. I cannot imagine how she keeps track of the myriad worlds she’s created under her own name and her Mira Grant pseudonym. By my count, she’s got 6 current on-going series (novel series October Daye, Incryptid, Newsflesh, Wayward Children, and the “Deep” books; and the short story series featuring The Fighting Pumpkins cheerleading squad) and several that seem to be on hiatus but could return at any moment (Parasitology, Velveteen, Indexing). They are a marvelously disparate group of worlds featuring an endlessly diverse group of characters. Seanan McGuire builds worlds that readers love to become immersed in. But she doesn’t just build worlds to hang series of novels on – she delves those worlds, too.
“World-delving” is a term I may or may not have made up. I haven’t seen anyone else use it, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been used. Regardless, it’s the perfect word for what Seanan McGuire does in the short stories she writes to accompany her on-going novel series. She’s written short stories and novellas (and even, I believe, a poem/song or two) to dig deeper into the worlds of October Daye, Newflesh, and Incryptid. These stories occasionally take place in the “present” of the parent series, filling in events between novels (and usually featuring favorite supporting characters). But more often, they probe and explicate the past events that shaped the world the current characters live in.
Take world of Incryptid as an example. The novels (six so far, with #7, “Tricks For Free,” due in bookstores next week) give us the adventures of the Price siblings (Verity, Alexander, and Antimony) as they work in secret to protect the cryptid populations of North America from extermination by the Covenant of Saint George – a European-based secret society the Price kids’ grandparents and great-grandparents split from, on pain of death, in the early 20th century. While the novels throw in occasional references to that past, the majority of the plots and sub-plots and even sub-sub-plots are about the here-and-now of the Price kids’ lives (romance included).
There are short stories available filling in events between novels (mostly featuring Verity or her cousins) or events shortly before the novels begin (most focusing on Antimony’s roller-derby career), but fully half of the Incryptid stories McGuire has published for free on her website explore the Price family’s history. These stories deepen the reader’s understanding of the history that affects every one of the modern Price kids (whether Verity and her siblings and cousins are aware of the influence or not), as well as the reader’s understanding of the North American cryptid population the family strives to protect.
The first arc of stories, now seemingly complete, runs from 1928 to 1945 and gives us the love story of Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown (the Price kids’ great-grand-parents). Johnny is the only child that Alexander and Enid Healy were allowed to take with them when they split from the Covenant of St. George; he’s grown up in hiding and learning what it means to protect rather than destroy cryptids. On one such mission out west, he meets the fascinating and frustrating Frances Brown, nick-named “The Flower of Arizona, The Star of New Mexico.” Over the course of fourteen stories (each 20-28 pages in length, all but two available for free on McGuire’s website), we see how timid, uptight Johnny finally lets his guard down and brings new blood into the Healy family fold. We experience, in short bursts, not the entirety of Johnny and Fran’s life together but rather the highlights – the grand love story of a quiet man and bold woman that will reverberate through to those same great-grand-children. And if you’ve read the novels, you know that despite their outward demeanor, the Price kids all want to find lasting love like that of their grand- and great-grand-parents. Through Johnny and Fran’s cross-country trek home to meet his parents, we also get to know cryptid families that will play a role in their great-grand-children’s lives, to examine how those relationships were formed and firmed, in particular the folks who inhabit the traveling circus Fran was a part of when she and Johnny met. But these stories aren’t just about romance and building friendships: the shadow of the Covenant of St. George falls over everything the Healys experience, regardless of the Covenant’s physical presence. The fear of discovery, of their carefully-built world coming apart because of one slight slip in awareness, is palpable throughout – and that’s disregarding the very real dangers Johnny and Fran encounter from cryptids who don’t want their help or don’t believe they should have to stay hidden from humans any longer.
The second world-delving arc probes the next generation, commencing from 1954: Johnny and Fran’s headstrong, willful, adventure-seeking daughter Alice and her eventual husband Thomas Price (this is not a spoiler, as one of the sub-sub-plots of the novels is Alice’s interdimensional search for her missing husband). While the tension of the earlier arc involved the Healy’s (and particularly Johnny’s) willingness to let someone completely unknown in, the tension of this arc (three stories in, so far, all free on the site) sits firmly in the realm of “what happens when the enemy moves in next door, but doesn’t seem so bad?” Thomas is being tested by the Covenant, punished for recent failures, and the Healys have every right to be concerned he’s about to bring the wrath of the Covenant down on them, no matter how much he may profess otherwise. Again, the threat of the Covenant is clear and present, even if they never make an appearance. And again, through headstrong Alice and quiet, bookish Thomas, we see opposites attract, and we get to experience more of the Michigan-area cryptid community that will play roles in the adventures of Verity, Alexander, Antimony and their cousins. They say “the past is prologue,” and in these short story arcs, Seanan McGuire takes that adage to heart. She excavates here the nuggets of wisdom and experience that have been handed down to the present-day carriers of the Price-Healy banner.
For readers of the novels, these stories are world-delving, deepening our knowledge of the family history and world around them. But I don’t want to drive potential new readers away from a great free opportunity to dip their toes into the world of Incryptid. These short stories work as well as introduction as they do explication. Someone completely unfamiliar with the Incryptid novels could read these short story arcs and not feel like a clueless outsider dumped into a world the author presumes the reader is familiar with. McGuire peppers the stories with everything you need to know to understand the world and time these characters exist in; there are no references to what their grand/great-grand-kids will experience in the novels. For folks new to McGuire’s Incryptid world, these stories are world-introducing. They work on expertly on both levels.
Each story in each arc is complete unto itself and vital information is repeated from story to story. But the arcs also have a beginning, middle, and end. The Johnny-and-Fran sequence, essentially complete unless McGuire decides to go back and add more installments later, really needs to be collected in print form (Subterranean Press, I’m looking at you). It works very well as a mosaic novel of inter-connected short stories.
If you’re not familiar with the Incryptid novels and want to get a sense of the world, I recommend hoping over to Seanan McGuire’s website and clicking the sidebar menu for Incryptid. You’ll find links to descriptions of the novels, as well as to the page for all of the short stories. (Fair warning, though: events of the novels will be spoiled if you read the Verity-and-Dominic or Sarah-and-Arthur stories on the page.) If you’re already familiar with the Incryptid novels but somehow didn’t know there were more world-delving short stories out there … well, now you know.