SUNDAY SHORTS: Seanan McGuire Destroys Air Travel

The “Sunday Shorts” feature is dedicated to reviewing short stories and novellas, two forms I absolutely love.

My full-time job requires me to travel fairly frequently (anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the month) and much of that travel is by air across the continental United States. I’m pretty comfortable with the process at this point (airport security and airplane seating being what they are), although I find that I’m likely to get motion sick if I try to read or watch anything during takeoff, landing or even slight turbulence. I’ve been in one (admittedly minor) emergency landing and experienced plenty of rough air and less-than-pleasant customer service on the ground. But I’m not afraid of any aspect of flying.

Even so, two recent short stories by Seanan McGuire, both posted on her Patreon, made me squirm uncomfortably. “Carry On” was first published last year (and is reprinted in this month’s Nightmare magazine) while “Emergency Landing” is this month’s Patreon story. Each turns a different aspect of air travel in an opportunity for emotional/psychological horror.

In our present day, airlines are charging more and more for “incidentals” (in-flight snacks and entertainment, extra leg-room, checked and carry-on luggage). “Carry On” is a brutal look at a possible future where the price of fuel justifies airlines charging passengers not just for the combined weight of their carry-on luggage, but also for the weight of the passenger and their clothing. Step on a scale with your bags, and be judged before entering security. Mary, the focal-point character, has saved for ages to be able to fly cross-country to see her sister and meet her new niece; but getting past the weigh-in without having to pay, in money and embarrassment, is not easy. McGuire really captures the indignities heaped, even now, upon travelers who are overweight. The tension of the wait, the bad weigh-in, the events that follow, the recognizable emotions Mary feels at the end, are all so real. Mary feels isolated even in a large terminal with hundreds of other people experience the same trauma she is. This is the second time I’ve read the story, and it once again made me cry for the main character.

“Emergency Landing” takes place almost entirely on a plane already in the air. The narrator describes her dash to make her connecting flight out of Atlanta, her initial impressions of her seat-mates, and then the plane takes off – just before the narrator sees missiles streak towards the airport they’ve just departed. The rest of the story is a tense game of “how much do we tell the passengers about what’s happening on the ground” and “what do we do about landing since our fuel can’t last forever.” The emotional stakes are just as high as in “Carry On,” but from a different direction. While Mary feels invisible among her fellow travelers, Caitlin feels too seen because of what they think she knows. The story moves fast as Caitlin’s fellow passengers move from anguish to fear to false bravado and Caitlin must decide whether sharing her knowledge will make things better or worse. It’s not often I describe stories or books as leaving me breathless, but this one did.  I also think that had this appeared in an anthology (it would have been perfect for Stephen King and Bev Vincent’s recent Flight or Fright), it would appear under Seanan’s Mira Grant name, given that the main character is an epidemiologist.

SEANAN McGUIRE - Author Interview

This week I welcome the lovely and talented, and occasionally just a little bit — okay, occasionally a lot — scary Seanan McGuire.

Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire

Seanan is the author of the October Daye series of urban fantasies, the first seven of which have been purchased by DAW Books; the InCryptidseries of urban fantasies, the first two of which have been purchased by DAW Books; and the Newsflesh trilogy, published by Orbit under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” She’s working on several other books, just to make sure she never runs out of things to edit. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, and she was a 2010 Universe Author for The Edge of Propinquity. Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In her spare time, Seanan writes and records original music. She has three CDs currently available (see the Albums page for additional details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, “With Friends Like These…”.

ANTHONY: Seanan, thanks for taking the time out of your absolutely insane writing schedule to chat with me. How many different series do you have running at the moment?

SEANAN: It’s either three or four (or possibly five, depending on how you count), it’s hard to say–I have one series on the way out, the Newsflesh books as Mira, but I still have one book yet to be published.  At the same time, I’m working on the next Mira Grant project, which isn’t even properly announced yet.  So the number is sort of squiggly.

ANTHONY: Do you find any significant differences in your work ethic or habits from one series to another?

SEANAN:  Nope.  I am a very efficient little Halloween girl, and I approach everything with the same set of checklists, research habits, and absolutely rigorous schedules.  It’s how my brain naturally functions.  Now, I do tend to listen to different music depending on what I’m doing, but that’s all part of setting the proper mood.

 ANTHONY: Let’s talk about your newest series, INCRYPTID. Where are we at the beginning of the series and who are the main characters, both heroic and villainous?

SEANAN:  At the beginning of the series we’re following Verity Price, the latest in a long line of cryptozoologists, as she undertakes her journeyman studies in Manhattan and tries to get to know the local cryptid community.  Her family–now the Prices, formerly the Healys–split off from an organization called the Covenant of St. George about four generations ago.  The Covenant hunts monsters.  The Prices protect them.  Conflict is inevitable.

 Verity’s family currently consists of her parents, Kevin and Evelyn, her siblings, Alexander and Antimony, her Aunt Jane and Uncle Ted and their kids (Arthur and Elsinore), and assorted grandparents.  She also has her adopted cousin, Sarah Zellaby, a telepathic mathematician who looks human but actually evolved from a species of parasitic wasp.  It’s complicated.  I am super excited.

 ANTHONY:  Fantasy, horror and SF seem to move in ways — we’ve been riding the vampire/werewolf/zombie wave for a while, angels seem to have peaked recently … cryptids seem to be the upcoming thing. In a world that seems to grow smaller and more interconnected by the day, with less unexplored/”dark” places to capture our imagination, why do you think the concept of cryptids is more interesting than ever? I mean, we even have shows like “Bigfoot Hunters” on cable television, “reality” rather than scripted dramas.

SEANAN:  Because the smaller the world gets, the more things we’re discovering in the shadows.  Twenty years ago, the giant squid was barely a real thing, and now it’s not even the biggest thing in the ocean.  Ten years ago, we were just discovering that the tree lobster–a stick insect the size of your hand–wasn’t extinct.  Every time we say “that’s it, we know everything,” we find something else.  Cryptids represent a mystery that might actually be something we can solve.  And they’re a part of our cultural makeup.  No matter where you go, there are cryptids, ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night.

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

ANTHONY: Without risking any spoilers, what can we expect for Verity Price and the rest of the characters moving forward?

SEANAN:  You know.  Stuff.  More books, hopefully.  I’ve finished the second volume, Midnight Blue-Light Special, and I’m itching to get to work on the third.  There are talking mice.  The usual.

ANTHONY: One question I always hate to get is “which of your characters is your favorite?” (Followed quickly by “Who would win in a fight…”) So I won’t ask you either of those, but it’s natural to want to compare all of your strong female leads. So: what do you admire most about Toby, Verity, etc.?

SEANAN:  Toby has more than her fair share of stubborn.  She could be stubborn on an Olympic level, and once she says she’ll do something, she will.  Not.  Give.  Up.  Verity is fearless when she’s defending her friends or the people (and cryptids) she cares about, and while she knows she’s mortal, she really doesn’t give a shit.  Velveteen is more powerful than she thinks she is.  And Rose Marshall is all about doing the right thing, no matter how much she whines.

ANTHONY:  The Field Guide to Cryptids on your site really whetted my interest in the book, perhaps moreso than reading the descriptive blurb on various bookstore websites. Who did the illustrations, and will we be seeing those in the book itself?

SEANAN:  The Field Guide illustrations were done by the amazing Kory Bing, who is just incredible to work with, and does a fabulous web comic called “Skin Deep” that you should totally check out.  I’m so excited to be working with her, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.  The illustrations won’t be in the book; it’s not that kind of book.  But maybe we’ll do a picture book or something somewhere down the line…

ANTHONY:  How much fun was it cataloging and categorizing the various extant and extinct Cryptids of North America?

 SEANAN:  So much fun.  Sooooooo much fun.  And there’s so much more to come.

 ANTHONY:  And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

My favorite book in the whole history of all the books ever written, ever, is IT by Stephen King.  And you should read it because every twenty-seven years Pennywise the Dancing Clown kills a bunch of people, and now that it’s 2012, the twenty-seven year cycle is starting again, and you want to know how not to wind up on his dance card.

You  can follow Seanan on Twitter as @seananmcguire. You can become a Fan of hers on Goodreads. You  can friend her on Facebook,  follow her adventures on her livejournal and check out all of her books on her own website.