Connie Willis loves Christmas. "I even like the parts most people hate--shopping in crowded malls and reading Christmas newsletters and seeing relatives and standing in baggage check-in lines at the airport. Okay, I lied. Nobody likes standing in baggage check-in lines," she writes. Willis knows it's hard to write good Christmas stories: the subject matter is limited, the writer has to balance between sentiment and skepticism, and too many fall into the Victorian habit of killing off saintly children and poor people. Here she presents eight marvelous Christmas tales, two of which appear for the first time.
The stories range from "The Pony," about a psychotherapist who doesn't believe that Christmas gifts can answer our deepest longings, and "Inn," in which a choir member rehearsing for the Christmas pageant becomes part of the original Christmas story, to "Newsletter," where an invasion of parasitic creatures causes unusually good behavior in their hosts, and "Epiphany," a story of three unlikely Magi following signs through a North American winter toward the returned Jesus Christ. "Miracle" is a comic romance echoing Willis's favorite Yuletide movie, Miracle on 34th Street, and "Catspaw" is a homage to the traditional Christmas murder mystery with a sly, science-fictional twist. The collection also includes "In Coppelius' Toyshop," in which a bad guy is trapped in Toyland, and "Adaptation," a Dickensian story about what it means to keep Christmas in your heart.
Those who want only SF stories may find this collection lacking, but anyone who enjoys complex tales with true Christmas spirit will treasure it. --Nona Vero
From Publishers Weekly
The witty, literate Willis offers a wonderfully enjoyable ode to Christmas with this collection of eight fantastic seasonal tales. In "Inn," Willis turns what could have been a maudlin church choir story into a poignant tale with a time-travel twist. The title piece, "Miracle," is a screwball office comedy in which It's a Wonderful Life is soundly trounced in favor of Miracle on 34th Street, and the spirit of an ecologically aware surfer appears to give a reluctant heroine her heart's desire. A world-class jerk gets a Twilight Zone-like comeuppance in "In Coppelius's Toy Shop," while in the ominous "The Pony," the characters find exactly what they truly want under the tree. "Adaptation" blends literary and paternal love as two characters from Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" and a modern-day Scrooge become part of a lonely bibliophile's holiday. Throughout the book, Willis's well-crafted stories fuse traditional holiday plots with SF and fantasy elements to good effect. For example, her take on the British country-house Christmas mystery, "Cat's Paw," stars a world-famous sleuth and his slightly foggy assistant Abut it's set in a futuristic steel-and-glass manor and involves a plot that pivots around primate-rights activism. This is a collection that will entertain readers both in and out of season; and as a stocking-stuffer for SF fans, it's a merry delight. (Nov.) FYI: Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog has won the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
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