Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Laughter at teh AcademyAuthor: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Released: October 31st, 2019
Received: NetGalley
Rating: Kitty Rating

I received a copy of Laughter at the Academy through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Laughter at the Academy is Seanan McGuire’s first true collection of short stories, by her own words. If you’ve read any of Seanan McGuire’s works, then you probably already have a good idea of what will be in store for you here. So I don’t need to explain all of the reasons you should be reading this. If you haven’t read Seanan McGuire, this is an excellent sampling of her works, and thus worth checking out.

Laughter at the Academy consists of twenty-two short stories; Laughter at the Academy, Lost, The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells, Uncle Sam, Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage, Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust, Homecoming, 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 (which is technically twenty-six even shorter stories), #connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere, and finally, Deep, Deep Down, Below the Waves.

This was an amazing collection, one that will push readers through a gambit of emotions, from horror to sadness, back around to amused and joyous. Seanan McGuire’s stories are sure to enthrall and fascinate.


“This is where, by format, I should offer up some extended metaphor, like ‘follow me into the forest’ or ‘let’s go walking in the fields together, you and I,’ but my metaphors are in my fiction, and tend to be pretty weird.”

Spoiler Warning

Laughter at the Academy

Laughter at the Academy is the namesake of this collection, and with good reason. This is a tale that takes the mad scientist trope, and spins and twists it until it’s something new and different. In a world where mad scientists are a literal thing, what can the public do, except try and find a standardized test for madness?

I adored this short story. It was funny, it was whimsical. And in many ways, it was also just a little bit down to earth. I honestly would have loved to see an entire novel along this theme, but I’m not going to complain about what I got here.


Lost is the tale of well…lost children. What would happen, if all the children under the age of fourteen began to sing, and followed an unknown mystery into space? That is what McGuire explores in this tale.

There was something so beautiful and eerie about this tale. In some ways, this short story felt like a fragile being – handle it too roughly, and you’ll dash it upon the rocks. But it was also fierce, in that it really did dig into my heart. Once again, I would have loved to see more of this tale.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells explores a concept that may be familiar to those that have read A Kingdom of Needle and Bone. And I mean that in a positive way, of course. Here Seanan McGuire explores a scientist set out to teach the world a lesson – a lesson about quarantine procedures, and how fatal it can be to fail to follow them.

First I just want to say that I love the title of this short story. It’s perfect. Second, once again this was an absolutely eerie tale. I adored everything about it, even while it utterly creeped me out. And I mean that in the best ways possible…even if it will make me hesitate when entering a highly trafficked area…for the rest of my life.

Uncle Sam

America may be one of the youngest counties out there, but that hasn’t stopped it from collecting its own lore and legends. But what if the lore was more than just a myth? Here is a dark and disturbing tale, about how our country was founded, and the price of maintaining it.

Oh god, there was something so utterly disturbing about this tale. Perhaps because it resonated so deeply within me. In truth, it’ll resonate with any woman who has ever been told to be mindful of where she is, and where she should never go alone.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage

This is Seanan McGuire’s first go at writing a portal fantasy, according to the description. And I’ve got to say, she nailed it. Here is a sad, yet beautiful tale, about a young girl who became a warrior, but then had to face a whole new challenge in her life.

In many ways, Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage felt so poignant. Who among us hasn’t felt a keen sense of loss, in regards to their childhoods? McGuire manages to reach into that emotion, and write out an entire tale surrounding it.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust

This short story is McGuire’s take of The Wizard of Oz. What if Dorothy went home, but kept finding herself back in Oz, again and again? More, what if she wasn’t the only one to keep coming back – despite her best efforts?

This short story was a darker tale on the world, but it just felt so…right. It’s delightfully colored by her own perception and writing, and thus worth reading for both fans of Oz, and fans of McGuire.


Homecoming explores the concept of modern Valkyries – those whose job it is to guide the spirits of the dead to their final resting place. What would these Valkyries look like now, with how much our lore, religion, and societies have changed?

No Seanan McGuire collection is complete without a ghost story or two. This is a heartwarming tale, but it is also such a prime example of her work. Only McGuire could combine ghosts and football into something such as this.

Frontier ABCs: The Life and Times of Charity Smith

The wild west meets space in this short story. Charity Smith was not a woman to be crossed, and she won’t tolerate all of the wars that keep sprouting up all over the universe. And she certainly won’t allow innocents to keep getting between the battles.

Once again, I found myself wanting to see more of this tale. It was so fascinating, and I just love how Charity’s backstory was slowly revealed over time, while also showing us the full brunt and cost of the wars.

We Are All Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War

If there are two things that should possibly never combine, it’s AI and children’s toys. Yet that is exactly the story Seanan McGuire explores here, and the darker conclusion of such interactions.

Okay, this is one of those short stories that is going to chill you to the bone. No, that’s not quite right. It’s going to change the way you look at your childhood toys. McGuire’s writing is beautifully macabre in this tale, using repetition to force the horror of the tale to fully sink in.

The Lambs

The Lambs is a look at how the future might try and handle bullying. In a world where we can create incredibly advanced robots, why not design them to make them appear human? Here these androids have been deployed to find the bullies in schools, and take the abuse so the humans can survive.

Wow. This was a dark tale. But it was also so much more. Part of me felt pity for the lambs, while the rest of me wondered how a program such as this would work in real life. It’s certainly a food for thought sort of short story, and those are always my favorite types.

Each to Each

Each to Each is Seanan McGuire’s obligatory mermaid story – you just knew that she was going to fit one in here. In this tale, mermaids meet the navy in a tale of transformation and engineering – all while covering some prolific and heavy subjects. Themes that are commonplace in today’s time.

I can’t tell you how much I adored this short story. It was pure Seanan McGuire. I love that it addressed several important subjects (misogyny and transphobia), but I also love the world that she built here, and would desperately love to see more of it.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal!!!

It isn’t every day you see a story masquerading as a crowdfunding project, yet that is exactly what Seanan McGuire created here. Here, you’ll see it combined with her love for Halloween. It’s a delightful and slightly inane combination, which makes it perfect in so many ways.

Office Memos

Office Memos is exactly what it sounds like; a collection of office memos. Only…there’s a catch. The office is a Polytechnic Engineering and Research facility and is full of whimsical and insane science fiction and fantasy moments.

This short story had me laughing out loud at so many points. It was a breath of fresh air from all of the heavier stories in this collection. And I would have loved it even without that element. It was hilarious and cute and so very sassy. It really was best suited to a short story format, but still, I find myself wishing I could have seen more…

Lady Athenia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare

Steampunk meets H.G. Wells in Lady Athenia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare. Athenia is not and has never been, what she appears to be. Nor is she a being that can be bent to anybody’s will. But you can rest assured, she’ll be memorable at a party…

This was a fun and fantastical tale. It was proper, in the way you expect all steampunk tales to be. But it also had bite to it, and that is what I loved most of all.

Driving Jenny Home

If you’ve read Seanan McGuire’s Ghost Road series, then you already know that she’s fascinated with hitchhiking ghosts. This is an earlier incarnation of that tale. Jenny was off to her prom, when she and her girlfriend, Leigh, were in a fatal car accident. Fatal for Jenny, that is. Leigh had to live with what happened that night.

This is a story for which you’ll be grateful to have tissues around. Still, it was fascinating and beautiful. But I might be biased since I love the Ghost Road series so much. I can see a lot of the influence of this piece, and it was truly lovely as a short story here.

There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold

There Is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold is another tale about dolls and toys, but with a completely different take. Marian is a dollmaker, but for her it goes beyond a hobby. Thanks to her connection to the Kingdom of the Cold, she can infuse her emotions into the dolls she makes. But there is a price for crossing their path.

This was a fascinating and delightful tale. It unraveled perfectly, but still left me wishing that there was more to it. That’s just how perfect this story was. It was an interesting take on the connection between people and their possessions, and a memorable one at that.

In Skeleton Leaves

In Skeleton Leaves is McGuire’s take on the classic Peter Pan tale – a darker world than we might have read about growing up. But that seemed to fit perfectly with both the tale, and what we’ve seen of McGuire’s previous works.

Honestly? This tale was perfect. I’ve loved Peter Pan since I was a kid, but it always felt like it was missing something…something darker to add a bit of weight to the story. And I feel like this perfectly captured what I had always felt was missing.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies for What Is About to Happen (But You Started It)

It is hard to describe this one, without giving it all the way. Suffice it to say that it combines many of Seanan McGuire’s great loves; Jurassic Park/dinosaurs, genetic engineering, and beautifully twisting expectations.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World may be a slightly long title, but it perfectly fits the story within. This is the story of the last tuna fish, and the very special connection one girl – now woman – had with it.

This was a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale, all in one. It covered a lot of different themes and concerns, from growing up to what damage we’re doing to our planet. And naturally, I loved everything about this story.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes

From A to Z in the Book of Changes is quite literally a collection of twenty-six one word prompts, that Seanan McGuire then turned into a series of very quick short stories. It’s something I’ve never seen done before, and was a truly unique experience to read.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere

Once again, Seanan McGuire has managed to tell a tale from a strange media format. This time around her tale is being told through tweet (twitter) format. Yes, you read that right. Throughout these tweets, a dark and disturbing horror is slowly revealed. And she made excellent use of hashtags to add subtext. It was perfection.

Deep, Deep Down, Below the Waves

Deep, Deep Down, Below the Waves combines Lovecraft horror and McGuire’s writing into something new and amazing. If you’ve read the tale of Innsmouth, then you’re already perfectly positioned to be horrified and fascinated by what happens here.

This was perhaps my favorite short story out of the whole collection, which is saying something. I loved McGuire’s take on Innsmouth and its strange residents. I honestly would love nothing more than seeing this adapted into a full novel format. But for now, I’ll be content with what I have here.

About Liz (AKA Cat)

I am an avid animal lover, photographer, reader, and much more. While my photography blog is feeling a bit neglected at the moment, the other sites I'm involved in are going strong. ✧I review books, comics, and basically anything else in the literary world over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks (of Books). ✧I review comics and books, as well as write content for Word of the Nerd. ✧I review comics for Monkeys Fighting Robots. ✧I write content for Screen Rant and CBR. ✧I write book reviews for The Review Crew.
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