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A Lot Like Christmas: Stories Paperback – October 10, 2017
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“A perfect stocking stuffer for Christmas—celebrating fans of [Connie] Willis’s humorous SF.”—Publishers Weekly
“A collection of Christmas stories with just the right blend of sugar and spice . . . sweet and sharp, whimsical and heartfelt, funny and warm . . . Fans of Willis’s gently comic speculative fiction will love this collection, and it will also appeal to readers looking to get into the holiday spirit.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Connie Willis is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She has received seven Nebula awards and eleven Hugo awards for her fiction; Blackout and All Clear—a novel in two parts—and Doomsday Book won both. Her other works include Crosstalk, Passage, Lincoln’s Dreams, Bellwether, Impossible Things, Remake, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Fire Watch, and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Connie Willis lives with her family in Colorado.
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But Willis is a master (mistress?) of short stories and novellas. So much so, that I -- who see Christmas only as a foodie's excuse to pig out -- re-read her collection of Christmas stories _every single year_ since I first got a copy of Miracle and Other Christmas Stories (M&OCS). I've given the book as a gift on several occasions, and certainly recommended it to anyone who'll listen.
So it's a no-brainer for me to tell you to get A Lot Like Christmas, because it's a new-and-improved version of M&OCS. It makes sense to do so, since the book was first published in 2000, and Willis has written several more short stories and novellas with a Christmas theme (or at least verbal soundtrack) in them.
However, if you are as much of a Connie Willis fan as I am, do, you should check the list of 12 stories that are included in this volume. Some have been released separately, so you may already own them standalone. Herein:
All About Emily
All Seated on the Ground
In Coppelius' Toyshop
Just Like the Ones We Used To Know
"Pony," which was in the original M&OCS, is absent. (I enjoyed reading it the first time around, but since I can't bring the story to mind immediately I guess I don't miss it.) I'd read "All About Emily" in an SF magazine and "All Seated on the Ground in hardback. The new-to-me stories did not disappoint... aw heck, they're just plain wonderful. Willis has the rare ability to make "zany plot" a good thing, like the best Hepburn & Tracy movies, without you ever thinking, "This is really silly." And they all have a science fiction premise, whether it's contemplating the future of movie-going or what happens when your Christmas Guardian Angel comes by way of a California hippie attitude or the linguistic challenges of First Contact.
There's also a thorough introduction and three afterwards, and they might be worth the "upgrade" on their own. Because Willis (and I!) have loved to discover other stories/media by a mention in another tale (her example is Three Men in a Boat which Kip's dad is reading in Have Space Suit, Will Travel), she makes a point of recommending Christmas movies (I confess I've missed many of them) and Christmas stories (ditto). And she makes me want to catch up for lost time.
On only a few times do I want to give a book more than five stars. This is one of them. Highly recommended.
In this creative and clever compilation you’ll be treated to:
1. Miracle – a story of an office worker who is haunted by the Spirit of Christmas Present (the gift not the here-and-now).
2. All About Emily – The tale of an aging Broadway actress and Manufactured Lifelike Entities.
3. Inn – what happens when the homeless show up at the church during Choir Practice?
4. All Seated – Aliens land in Denver and just stand there. For a long time. Until they are introduced to Christmas Carols at the mall.
This is just a taste of what you have in store but I’ll admit that as much as I enjoyed each and every story in this book I most liked the post-script section that included a list of the best Christmas Movies to Watch. It seems the author prefers Miracle on 34th Street far more than It’s a Wonderful Life (me too). I’ve been looking for a comprehensive list of good holiday movies and found it here. I’ve actually gone to Amazon and purchased a few. True, this is not a reason to buy a book but for me it was the icing on the cake.
In her introduction, Willis says “the Christmas-story writer has to walk a narrow tight-rope between sentiment and skepticism, and most writers end up falling off into either cynicism or mawkish sappiness.” Since I am not sure Willis is capable of writing anything without a good dose of humor, she also must avoid drifting off into the silly. For the most part, these stories manage to avoid these traps. The outline of most of the stories is that our hero or heroine is facing a problem, usually a mundane problem like Christmas newsletters or how to greet the first aliens to land on Earth, that gets increasingly bleak (or absurd depending on whether you are the protagonist or the reader). At the climax, Willis pulls the chestnuts out of the fire (Well, they ARE Christmas stories, aren’t they?) and provides a happy ending, often with a touch of romance.
This book is an expanded edition of Willis’ Miracles and Other Christmas Stories with five new stories. However, one of the stories in Miracles, The Pony, is not in A Lot Like Christmas, so true Willis aficionados should not get rid of their tattered copy of Miracles (There was no explanation for the omission of The Pony.). The new stories are true to the mood of the earlier ones. As a bonus, in case the book has warmed you up to want even more Christmas entertainment, Connie provides her recommendations of Christmas movies, poems, stories, and TV shows.
Speaking of movies and TV shows, Willis is a real fan of both, as well as popular Christmas music. Several of the stories are full of references, allusions, and echoes that will be especially enjoyed by those who, like Connie, love to argue the merits of Miracle on 34th Street versus It’s a Wonderful Life or who have queued up several dozen versions of White Christmas to play during Christmas Eve Dinner so that they don’t have to talk to Uncle Ted. Many of the stories include observations on current culture (or perhaps lack of culture), and it is fun to read the stories from the early 90s with their “quaint” fashions and fads (like tropical-themed restaurants) and wonder what today’s stories will sound like in 20 or 30 years.
Willis is a Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, but don’t skip the book just because you do not read SF. None of the stories is truly science fiction, although there is plenty of whimsy and a bit of fantasy woven into Connie’s various takes on the Christmas spirit.
I was always delighted when I found a Willis Christmas story in Asimov’s magazine, knowing I was in for a heartwarming treat that would put me in a Christmas mood. That being said, however, like many sweet treats, I think these stories are enjoyed best if taken in a small helping rather than sitting down for a binge-read. Since there are twelve stories, one story per day for the twelve days of Christmas is one obvious option, but I think a daily dose beginning about Thanksgiving might be just the right tonic to prepare you to face the Christmas crowds with a smile deserving of a story by Connie Willis.