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.
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.
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.