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