Short Story Review: YE HIGHLANDS AND YE LOWLANDS, by Seanan McGuire

I have to thank fellow blogger Maryam from The Curious SFF Reader, who sent me the link to this story, for the opportunity of reading this intriguing foray into science fiction by UF author Seanan McGuire, one that I might otherwise have missed: knowing how much I admire this writer, she pointed me this way, and at the same time introduced me to Uncanny Magazine, that’s been added to the list of places where I will look for interesting short fiction.


(click on the above link to read the story)

In Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands we learn that the world as we know it is ending and that the present situation is the direct consequence of a precise chain of events – indeed the words “things have consequences” keep resonating throughout the story, much like an ominous warning. Or a funeral dirge…

The main character, a mother with two teenaged kids, seeks some respite from what we understand is a long journey with little or no hope, and we learn through a series of flashbacks what happened before: the amazing discovery of a portal toward another world, the observation of this alien land where a few robotic probes have been sent in search for life, the encounter with an alien species – and the beginning of the end.

There is a painful dichotomy between the grim present, where people are running from certain death toward the few safe places – as long as they last, of course – and the hopeful, enthusiastic past, when people joked about the portal wanting to call it “the Stargate”, or when they sent the robot probes supplied with “every known human language—including Klingon”, in a giddy reach for contact with other forms of life that could not be disconnected from the number of fictional presentations that used to fire our imagination.  There is even some commentary about the fickleness of the human soul, when even the images of an alien world stop making the news, because “..-quickly people got over the magnitude of our discovery”.

I’m not going to reveal what the twist in the tale is, of course, but I feel comfortable in saying that it’s a painfully surprising one, and also a warning about the dangers of overconfidence, of putting one’s dreams above all else:  “we’d been so busy wallowing in intellectual ideals that we’d never stopped to think”.  Despite the grimness, despite the hopelessness, I enjoyed this story very much because no one like McGuire is able to deliver a tale of ultimate doom while keeping her readers engaged, enthralled by the way she weaves her words into a clear, mesmerizing picture.

Not a “happy” story, not by a long shot, but a powerful one that makes you think about the outcome of our choices, and the dangers of taking our customs and thinking processes for granted. Because, in the end



My Rating: 

18 thoughts on “Short Story Review: YE HIGHLANDS AND YE LOWLANDS, by Seanan McGuire

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed it and that you discovered Uncanny! It was a fairly easy recommendation since I know you really enjoy McGuire’s writing but still, it made my day! 🙂
    It is a very sad story indeed but a very important one I feel in a world where people don’t always mind the consequences of their actions, to the loss of all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s amazing in McGuire’s writing is that, no matter how sad the story she’s telling, she still manages to enthrall you and hold your attention from beginning to end. Not an easy feat, indeed.
      And thank you again! 🙂


  2. And McGuire does it again!! Wow. She really understands the concept of “high concept” doesn’t she? The dangers of overconfidence, wow…that’s an interesting theme, in sci-fi. From what I’ve read, sci-fi (at least the genre stuff) is often optimistic about humanity’s power to overcome obstacles through technology. This sounds like an interesting counterpoint…I’m so glad you enjoy this one, M! Thanks for highlighting it for us 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by! 🙂
      Yes, some kinds of science fiction (like Star Trek) prefer to concentrate on the optimistic side of things, sometimes not taking into account the flaws of the human mind and soul – and, worse still, our short-sightedness….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Not a “happy” story, not by a long shot…” – sensing this pattern here with a lot of her work! 😀 That’s the reason why I couldn’t get into her Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, and even her UF I tried was a little of a downer. Though I’ve never read her InCryptid series, and since I know you are a huge fan of the author, have you read that and do you know if it’s more upbeat and quirky?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Incryptid series is much more fun-oriented (and thanks for reminding me I need to move forward with it, since I’m woefully behind… 😀 ) and even though there are some very serious issues dealt with in the stories, the overall mood is quite lighter. And I’m certain you will love the Aeslin mice… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m a staunch October Daye fan, but I can understand how it might not meet everyone’s tastes. You will have fun with Verity Price and her family – and the mice, of course, let’s not forget the mice… 😀


  4. I’m going to check out this story when I have time. I’m loving her “Wayward Children” series so much, and since she just won a Nebula award for it, I’m even more excited to read this. I also sense a pattern with the “portal” theme which she explores so well in the Wayward Children books. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re more than welcome, and I’m happy to be able to return the favor you did in mentioning “Rolling in the Deep”, which I missed and was able to read, belatedly, thanks to your mention of the sequel novella that should come up in a short while.
      And I did not make the connection with the portal, but you’re right: it does somehow resonate with the concept of the other portal, especially with the sense of unknown danger that one could meet on the other side… 🙂


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.