We Wish You A Cosmic Christmas, edited by Hank Davis
Published by Baen Books, November 2012
Review by Mark Yon
As we approach the festive season, my thoughts turn to appropriate offerings available at Hobbit Towers. Often I will pick up a seasonal favourite, Connie Willis’ Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (2000), but this year I thought I’d shop around a bit and try something different.
This new collection of twelve stories is a pretty good choice. It is eclectic in its range, from future romance stories to mystical tales and even a tale of vampires. I did like this idea of an anthology, never quite knowing what’s next, but connected with a common theme.
The publisher and the editor clearly know their audience, with many Baen authors contributing new tales to this collection or having their Christmas stories collected here. We have a future-romance tale from Catherine Asaro to start with and a Connie Willis story from Miracle and Other Christmas Stories to finish, a new Grimnoir Chronicles tale from Larry Correia, a Mercedes Lackey Fantasy tale and a Lobo (without Jon) story from Mark L. van Name.
There’s humour, romance, excitement and horror herein.
Asaro’s tale, Dance in Blue, is a light romantic story about a future ballet dancer who goes off to meet her geeky boyfriend for a Christmas weekend away in the wilds and gets more than she bargains for. It settles the reader in nicely, as a fairly predictable and undemanding read.
Mark L. Van Name’s story Lobo, Actually, keeps the festive warmth going with a tale of Artificial Intelligence Lobo in a tale (before he meets Jon), where he makes a Christmas for a young boy and his family in hospital with an ailing father. There’s an interesting angle here about the AI’s ability to play God, but generally this one is quite saccharine-y and lays on the religious aspects of the tale somewhat thickly, with quite a dash of Dickensian melodrama. Suspect it is not for everyone.
On the Hills and Everywhere by Manly Wade Wellman is an old Silver John tale from the Weird Tales era. As is typical of these tales it is written as a short fireside tale, with a homely style to match. Think of it as I did, as a supernatural episode of The Waltons. Not as bad as that description might suggest!
Angels in Flight by Sarah A. Hoyt is the tale original to this collection. A future tale of artificially produced humans and their desire to be free, like angels. As a fairly short story things happen rather too quickly, and would probably work better in a longer novel, but it reads well, even if the religious/Christmas message is a little bit unsubtle.
Mad Holiday by George O. Smith is one of the bigger tales in this collection, at sixty pages, and my biggest let down. A Venus Equilateral tale from the 1940’s, it’s an adventure tale with our heroes, scientist-buddies Don Channing and Wes Farrell, battling against their super-science nemesis Mark Kingsman on a space station equidistant from Venus and the Sun. Full of science terms, and cheery bon-hominy, at times it read as a science lecture, at others a bad romance. The dialogue, full of dramatic statements and faux-witty retorts, can only be described as ‘quaint’. Very much in the EE ‘Doc’ Smith mould, which perhaps is not too surprising, but which will make some readers run a mile. I’m usually pretty happy with reading stories from SF’s past, allowing for their context, but even I found this one difficult to get through. One that shows us how far SF tales have come from the Golden Age.
From the worst in the book to one of my favourites. Larry Correia’s Detroit Christmas, a tale of the Grimnoir Chronicles, is a gangster tale with added Fantasy elements. The Christmas aspect is nominal here, but for those who watch film noir detective movies at Christmas (such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep) this one will strike a chord. I’d love to read more stories from this world.
Two short ones next, from S. N. Dyer, a writer I’d never heard of before, but would read again. (The introduction from the editor, given at the preface of each author’s contribution, says that she has given up writing to pursue a medical career.) The brief tales worked surprisingly well, and don’t outstay their welcome. The Vampires who Saved Christmas is funny and has a moral, whereas …And Visions of Sugar Plums is a supernatural take on consumerism, again with a little wry twist at the end.
Poul Anderson’s The Season of Forgiveness is a story from the Technic Civilisation, Poul’s bitter-sweet future history of an empire in decline. It’s a tale of Human/alien contact and Christmas on a far-away world. Ultimately, it is fairly slight, but quite charming in its conclusion.
Dumb Feast by Mercedes Lackey is a supernatural Fantasy story about the spectral return of a man’s dead wife on Christmas Eve. It is not what the man expects… this one read well, in a creepy Dickensian way, but given a definite contemporary twist.
Two cracking tales finish off the collection. The first one, Roads, by Seabury Quinn is a rare classic and, unlike the George O. Smith mentioned earlier, has weathered the ages pretty well. It is the tale of Christianity as seen through an immortal, who sees and is involved in many of the key events of the religion and ends up as a beloved Christmas icon. Some might complain about the rather heavy religious symbolism, and the language is definitely 1930’s, but unlike the George O. Smith tale it is appropriate and ultimately is a Weird Tales story that remains with you after you’ve finished. An interesting one to compare with recently published and reviewed Seth Grahame Smith’s Unholy Night.
Lastly, Newsletter by Connie Willis shows the author at her sprightly and humorous best. This was a story I already knew, as it is in Connie’s Miracle and Other Christmas Stories that I mentioned at the start of this review. If you’ve not read Newsletter before, it is a treat. It is a tale from Thanksgiving to Christmas as told by Nan Johnson, who becomes convinced, by noticing unusual behaviour and reading Christmas Newsletters, that her neighbourhood is being secretly invaded by an alien symbiote. Anyone who can work Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers into a Christmas story, and make it funny, deserves to have the conclusion to the collection. It also has some sly digs at the stresses created by the Christmas holiday season. It is the best story in the collection.
And there we have it. Twelve Christmassy tales, with varying degrees of success, but generally worth a read. It’s varied enough to keep the reader entertained whilst in its company, and, like the best party guest, doesn’t outstay its welcome. Though it’s a little uneven, it is a great one to sit with, whilst the bad weather’s outside and a warm drink’s inside nearby. Merry Christmas everyone.
Mark Yon, December 2012