Christmas SFF(riday): Clarke, Swanwick, Wentworth, Correia

Short Fiction Monday falls on a Friday this month! In this special edition, we’ve found speculative short stories with a Christmas theme. 

“The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (1954, free online or purchase at Audible)

In this Hugo-awarded Christmas-themed story, an astrophysicist who is also a Jesuit priest struggles with his faith as he returns from a scientific voyage to investigate a white dwarf, the remains of a star that went supernova thousands of years ago. What they discover shakes the priest’s faith as he tries to incorporate his new knowledge with some of the more innocent-seeming ideals of his order’s teachings.

For people of faith, “The Star” is a reminder of the sovereignty of God and the unfathomable nature of his deeds, as well as the message of hope and redemption that we celebrate at Christmas. ~Kat Hooper


“A Midwinter’s Tale” by Michael Swanwick (1988, originally published in Asimov’s, free sample on Baen.com from The Best of Michael Swanwick collection)

An interstellar soldier, suffering from some memory problems, meets an anonymous woman on one of the planets he is stationed on. He tells her a Christmastime story from his childhood on another planet, originally settled by a small group of humans, and their relationship with larls, the natives on this planet. Larls are large black puma-like predators, intelligent but non-speaking, and in Flip’s childhood they have a mutually beneficial working relationship with the humans on their planet.

Flip tells a story of this colony’s Christmas Eve celebration (which contains distinct echoes of Dylan Thomas’s classic A Child’s Christmas in Wales), which ends with Flip sleepily lying by the fireplace. A large larl curls up around him and unexpectedly speaks, telling Flip the story of when humans first arrived on their planet, and about a chilling and game-changing encounter between a huntress, her baby and the predatory larls.

It’s a mystical and bittersweet tale, with some wonderful writing. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the soldier’s story used by Michael Swanwick as the framing device, which didn’t quite fit for me (or maybe I was missing Swanwick’s point with it), and his memory problems add some not entirely welcome haziness to the events he retells. But the stories within that framing device ― the soldier’s (older Flip’s) tale of a very strange Christmas Eve, reminiscent of the traditional fable of beasts speaking on Christmas Eve, and in turn the larl’s tale of first contact between their species ― were both memorable.

“A Midwinter’s Tale” was also included in the 2011 Alien Contact anthology. Editor Marty Halpern’s blog includes some fascinating insights from Michael Swanwick about the elements that went into this tale, which include not only the Dylan Thomas and animals talking on Christmas Eve stories, but also some paintings by Marc Chagall that Swanwick saw at an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and several other inspirations and influences. ~Tadiana Jones


“Here Comes Santa Claus” by K.D. Wentworth (2004, free at Baen as part of the free Ring of Fire anthology)

“Here Comes Santa Claus” is a short story set in the world of Eric Flint’s RING OF FIRE series, which began with the 2000 novel 1632 and has since grown to over twenty novels and short fiction anthologies by Flint and multiple other authors that he has allowed to play in his universe. A large number of these RING OF FIRE works, including the first few novels in the series, are freely available to download at Baen. In this series, the rural town of Grantsville, West Virginia and the surrounding areas are instantly and permanently displaced (by a briefly described accident caused by aliens) in both time and space, to the region of Thuringia in what would later be northern Germany, and the year 1631. Once the townspeople realize where they are and that they’re presumably never going to get back to the modern USA, they decide to use good ol’ American ingenuity to recreate a modern society in 1600’s Europe.

Among the main characters is Julie Mackay, a former high school cheerleader and an Olympic-caliber sharpshooter. It’s December 1632, and Julie (now married to a contemporary man and pregnant with his child) decides that the town needs to celebrate Christmas, including gathering toys and presents for children, not just the Americans, but the many German refugees and orphans from the Thirty Years War who’ve found their way to Grantsville. While Julie is frantically planning the Christmas party, sending out her German friend Gretchen to solicit gift donations (which amusingly involves lots of gifts of livestock but not very many toys) and trying to find an appropriate man to play the role of Santa for the children, two separate groups of German military men are infiltrating Grantsville, masquerading as refugees, each with their own secretive, suspect plans. And one of those groups is specifically searching for Julie, who shot and critically wounded their General Wallenstein (an actual historical figure) using a sniper rifle at a battle at the Alte Veste, although they are under the impression that she’s a Jewish woman (Jew Lee, get it?).

“Here Comes Santa Claus” is an enjoyable, if somewhat superficial, episode in the saga of Grantsville and its people. It loses a fair amount of its impact if you haven’t read 1632, but it’s not necessary to have read any other books in the series. K.D. Wentworth does a good job of adopting Flint’s style and sensibilities for this Christmastime short. This story, like the entire series, is an interesting, largely optimistic notion of what could happen socially, militarily, and politically if historic people and cultures were to collide with a determined group of modern Americans with a fair amount of technology still at their disposal. ~Tadiana Jones


“Detroit Christmas” by Larry Correia (2016, $1.95 at Audible)

I love Larry Correia’s GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES, especially as performed in audiobook format by Bronson Pinchot. That’s why I picked up Detroit Christmas, a 1.25 hour-long holiday-themed audio drama written for a full cast (Bronson Pinchot was not involved). In this noir-inspired story, the clichéd sultry broad with a cigarette (that she needs help lighting) walks into the office of Jake Sullivan (the wonderful supernatural hero of the GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES) and asks for help locating her missing husband and promising double Jake’s normal fee. As Jake investigates, he deals with all sorts of unsavory fellows and finally solves the case.

I’m sad to say that Detroit Christmas was painful to listen to. It didn’t bother me much that Jake is totally out of character here, that it had almost nothing to do with Christmas, or that it was totally clichéd (that is supposed to be part of the appeal, I believe). What bothered me was that the story was boring and the humor, which is usually so sharp in Correia’s work, was awful. The worst part, though, was the dreadful drama. Characters were over-done, especially the gangstas. Imagine the worst imitation of a Detroit mobster that you can and you get the point. Also, the horrendous sound effects gave me a headache, and I’m being literal here. A real headache. Detroit Christmas was not worth the $2 I spent on it. ~Kat Hooper


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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2 comments

  1. Tadiana, I started laughing out loud at the mental picture of Valkyrie Gretchen “Gathering toys for the children!” Yes, her motivation is always her family and she is protective, but I just, I just… [Snickers wildly. Falls off chair.]

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