Category Archives: James Stoddard

Short Story Stocking Stuffers

Back in October, I looked at some of the stories in on of Prime Books theme anthologies dealing with, what else, Halloween.  I also mentioned another Halloween themed anthology at the same time.

Well, for Christmas, I thought I’d do the same thing.  This time I’ll look at another anthology from Prime, plus  one from Baen.  With one exception, which I’ll save for last, the contents of the two books have no overlap.  I’ve selected two tales from each one.  Sort of literary stocking stuffers.  I based my selections on the authors, choosing those I especially liked.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Season of Wonder
Paula Guran, ed.
Prime Books
trade paperback, 384 p., $15.95
Kindle, Nook $6.99 (available directly from Prime)

Of the two anthologies, I liked the cover art on this one better.  The stories here are more recent, as is typical of the anthologies from this publisher.  With the exception of the story by Sarban, which was published in 1951, all of them were published in the last 23 years.  I’d not previously read either of the stories I selected for review.

The first story I read was “Christmas at Hostage Canyon” by James Stoddard.  Stoddard is the author of The High House and The False House, novels inspired in part by Lin Carter’s Adult Fantasy series published by Ballantine in the late 60s and early 70s.  This story is set firmly in the present day and concerns a young boy’s encounter with an evil elf and a sword swinging Santa, which is my kind of Santa.  I liked this one a lot and thought Stoddard captured the viewpoint of a young boy perfectly.  Stoddard’s novels are out of print, but if you haven’t read them, they’re worth tracking down.

The second story I selected is “Loop” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Rusch has written a number of Christmas related stories in her career, many of which are available on her website if you want to read them.  Christmas isn’t central to this story in the sense that the Christmas aspect could be taken out without making major changes to the storyline.  However, this one probably works best as a Christmas story because it can be read as a riff on the Ghost of Christmas yet to come from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Unlike Dickens’ work, which is fantasy, this one is solidly science fiction, although the actual science content is mostly of the handwaving variety.  (At least it is to this scientist.)  That doesn’t take away the impact of the story, which I found to be a moving mediation on regret and choices not made.

Hank Davis, ed.
paperback, $7.99, ebook $8.99

Of the two volumes considered here, this one has the most variety in terms of publication date.  The oldest story is Seabury Quinn’s “Roads” (which I profiled exactly two years ago) from 1938.  The most recent is the only original tale in the book, “Angel in Flight” by Sarah A. Hoyt.  For the purposes of this review, I chose two of the older stories by two of my favorite authors, both sadly long deceased.  I’d read both stories years ago (as well as the story common to both volumes).  Both of these stories are parts of larger series, and while they aren’t major works as far as their respective series are concerned, they are both strong Christmas stories, the first in terms of theme and the second in terms of Christmas being central to the story.

“Over the Hills and Everywhere” is one of Manly Wade Wellman’s John the Balladeer stories.  In this one, though, John is only the narrator, telling a Christmas story to the children of a family with whom he’s spending the holiday.  As such, he only appears in the bits of framing sequence.  The story he tells is one of feuding neighbors and a wandering stranger who brings peace to their mountain.  Wellman was a deeply religious man, and it shows here in this tale.

Poul Anderson is represented by “The Season of Forgiveness”, from his Technic Civilization series, one of my favorite future histories.  This particular piece was written for Boys’ Life, the publication of the Boy Scouts of America.  It’s the story of a 16 year old graduate from the Academy who is assigned to his first post on an isolated trading station.  His desire to have a Christmas celebration for the children of an incoming group of settlers turns out to have long reaching implications for the relations between the humans and the indigenous population.

Christmas stories are hard to pull off without coming across as trite, overly-sentimental, or preachy.  The Anderson tale succeeds better than the Wellman at this.

Of course the one author who has built a reputation for extremely well executed Christmas stories is Connie Willis.  These have mostly been science fiction, with only one or two pure fantasy, and they’re well worth seeking out.  Some of the early one have been collected in Miracle and Other Christmas Stories.  That book was published over a decade ago (has it really been that long?), and she continues to write them.  Hopefully there’ be a new collection soon.  I always look forward to Connie’s Christmas stories, which almost always are published in Asimov’s.  She doesn’t publish one every year, and when she doesn’t, I’m always disappointed. (It’s been a couple of years since the last one appeared.)

The story that’s common to both anthologies is “Newsletter”, which I find interesting since there are so many of her stories to choose from.  This is an excellent choice, as it has all the elements that make a Connie Willis Christmas story so much fun to read.  Think a romantic comedy written by P. G. Wodehouse that takes place at Christmas with some type of fantastic angle, and you might have a glimmer of what you’re getting.

In this one, written as though it were a Christmas newsletter, we get Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters crossed with a Cary Grant screwball romantic comedy.  I’m a hard sell for humor, but this one made me laugh out loud.  I dare you not to see one of your family members somewhere in the cast.  If you’ve not read any of Willis’ Christmas stories, you’ve been missing out.  They’re an excellent example of an author taking diverse influences and melding them to produce something totally original.  There’s nothing like them anywhere that I’ve found.  The only thing that comes close is some of the humor in Kage Baker’s work.

There are a lot more selections in these anthologies.  I’m going to save them for next year.  If you’re in the mood for a holiday injection into your reading, either of these anthologies should fit the bill.

A Visit to the World House

The World House
Guy Adams
Angry Robot Books
 416pp A-format paperback
£7.99 UK   $tbc Aus
416pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US    $8.99 CAN
 ISBN 978 0 85766 037 4
ebook  £4.49 / $5.99
 ePub ISBN 978 0 85766 038 1

This one has been out for a while but it’s still worth a read.  As Dean Wesley Smith likes to point out, books aren’t produce; they won’t spoil.  When the book arrived in the mail, I was on my way back to work after meeting my wife for lunch and had stopped by the post office.  I decided to read it on my lunch breaks.  That didn’t happen for two reasons.  One, I keep having to run errands during lunch, and two, I was just too drawn into the story to be able to read only a short number of pages every few days.

The idea of a house where each room contains a world or a passage to a world isn’t new.  James Stoddard used it in The High House and The False House, just to give one example.  And while Stoddard’s books had some creepy moments, The World House does them one better.

This house is not one you want to live in.  In fact, it’s basically a prison.  I’m not giving away anything by saying that; the cover copy mentions a prisoner waiting for a door to be unlocked.  

I’ll mention some, but not all, of the things you find in the house.  There’s a Snakes and Ladders game painted on the floor of the nursery; when you step on it, it becomes three dimensional and the snakes are alive.  There’s a chapel with blood-thirsty cherubs.  The bathroom has an ocean in it.  (No, nothing has backed up.)  Various rooms have taxidermy, which can come to life.  The library has a book about each person’s life, unless of course the book worms eat your volume.  And let’s not forget the cannibals…

For a novel of this length, Adams includes a large number of characters, roughly a dozen or so, depending on how you want to delineate between major and minor characters.  Not all of them make it to the end.  Still, he does a good job of making them individuals, and some are deliciously evil.  They come from the late 1800s to the early 2000s, and all of them entered the house the same way.  They fell through a box.

There’s a small Chinese box.  If you find yourself in a life threatening situation, say about to get the crap beaten out of you by a loan shark, or being chased by your fiance who has taken you somewhere isolated so he can rape you, and you happen to be in contact with the box…well, you just fall in.  Once you do, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the house.  

The characters try survive and figure out how to get home.  The box is known in the real world, and a few have managed to make it back.  And of course, there are people who are searching for the box for reasons of their own.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot lines involving the characters any more than I have, which I realize isn’t much.  I’ll just say that who the heroes and villains are may surprise you.  And that’s one of the satisfying things about this novel.  Adams doesn’t do the obvious with the characters, and there are hidden relationships between some of the characters which aren’t revealed until the final pages.  

This one was a lot of fun.  Adams has a wonderfully dark and twisted imagination, especially when it comes to populating the rooms of the house.  Half the fun was seeing what he would throw at the reader next.  Even though the story isn’t over, I thought for the most part he did a fine job tying up all loose ends for the first half.  The second part of the tale, Restoration, is sitting on my desk at work.  I’ll be starting it soon.