Any Way the Wind Blows: A Tor.com Original

Seanan McGuire’s “Any Way the Wind Blows,” published originally right here on Tor.com’s website, is very short, very funny, very charming, and very good. Which is far too many verys in one sentence, is it not? But it is a delightful little piece of writing.

The premise is fairly simple: our captain and her crew, aboard the good airship Stubby (aka Her Majesty’s Stalwart Triumph of Glory) are a cartography crew, out to map the known and unknown world. Or, rather, to map the parallels, because the world is like “a sheet of baklava that hasn’t been cut,” and unless the cartographers do a goodly amount of mapping, they won’t know if the nasty things that like to eat those delicious layers are out there consuming. Gotta be prepared, and all that jazz.

The Flatiron Building, which is essentially a character of its own, is a frequent presence in various parallels of New York City, turning up so often that our captain says it is “close enough to universal to be a little bit unnerving.” (She’s a great narrator, funny because she’s so incredibly serious and unfunny.) In this parallel, however, our intrepid crew, on their way to go a good bit of looting and mapping (more on both later), run into trouble: the editors in the Tor offices come up to roof to meet them. And they’re not only uncowed but they really, really want to talk.

McGuire is a deft writer, blending the magical with the mundane, and she does a great job of it here. There’s the two-headed navigator (“‘Three heads is where it’s at‘”), who’s fascinated by the combustion engines of the planes on this parallel that is definitely our parallel. There are the Tor editors, who really just want to have a chat and take notes and are more than happy to pretend that these alien visitors are just another weird sci-fi publicity stunt. The dynamics among the crew on the good ship Stubby are a delight, real and believable, with just the right levels of camaraderie coupled with knowing exactly what to do to get under your boss’s skin, since she’s stuck with you anyway (and probably doesn’t know how to do your job). There’s even a throwaway line about how this gig better come with full tenure.

But, in the midst of this very short little story, McGuire also works in moments of politics. There are the interns, for whom these trips are generally always a death trap. (We don’t tend to die in our internships in this layer of the baklava, but we sure don’t get paid.) And the looting part? The part where they take artifacts back to the University? Where they try not to interact too much, because people tend to assume that those coming from elsewhere come in war, not peace? Boy is that part familiar. As I read that story I wondered if there were auction houses and museums filled with loot in other parallels, where their people could meander through and marvel at the less-advanced slices of the worlds, always without the navigator’s appreciation for other folks’ technology.

“Any Way the Wind Blows” is oh-so-short, a quick and easy read. But it, like the parallels of which McGuire writes, is as layered as baklava, and I have no doubt that every time I read it I’ll find something new in those delicious layers.

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