February 16, 2005

BOOKS: Christmas Stars, David G. Hartwell, ed. (1992)

I don't read many literary short stories; I generally prefer my fiction at novel length. I like having the time to get to know characters and settings, and to get absorbed in a plot.

But I do enjoy mystery and SF shorts, for some reason. In science fiction, especially, shorter fiction is often just the right size to present an idea that wouldn't hold my interest for 250+ pages.

The anthology at hand, Christmas Stars, is a Christmas-themed science fiction collection (reprints, not originals). On average, the quality's pretty high here. There are a few classics: Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star," Philip Van Doren Stern's "The Greatest Gift" (the story that inspired It's a Wonderful Life), Connie Willis's "Miracle."

Of the pieces I hadn't seen before, I particularly liked Ian Watson's "When Jesus Comes Down the Chimney," in which the holiday's sacred and secular mythologies have gotten a bit blurred; William Gibson's "Cyber-Claus," a brief high-tech update of C. Clement Moore; and Raymond E. Banks's "Christmas Trombone," which plays right into my weakness for stories about the unstoppable nature of the artistic spirit. The Joe L. Hensley/Alexei Panshin collaboration, "Dark Conception," is seriously dated -- it's a 1964 piece in which race relations are key to the plot -- but it's an effective piece of writing.

There are, of course, a few clunkers. Two prose poems by John M. Ford don't do much for me, and James Powell's "The Plot Against Santa Claus," an attempt at a hard-boiled detective story set among the North Pole elves, isn't effective as noir or parody.

Good collection on the whole, though.

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