Christmas Stars: Fantastic Tales of Yuletide Wonder edited by David G. Hartwell
originally published 1992
Tor, 1st printing, 2004
Genre: Speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, short stories, Christmas stories
Synopsis & Review:
The best of Christmas–past, present, and yet to come
Christmas is a time for miracle, scientific and otherwise, and for surprises that can only occur at this time of the year. But what marvels will the holidays bring to the far future–or to alien worlds light-years from the North Pole?
In this celebratory collection, many of today’s finest writers of fantasy and science fiction unwrap startling visions of the future of Christmas. An unusual Christmas spirit brings confusion-and romance-to a modern young woman. A father’s gift opens up the universe for all humanity. And a devout researcher uncovers the shattering secret of the original Star of Bethlehem. These and other stories shine like sparkling, unearthly ornaments on a fresh green tree of holiday traditions.
‘Twas the night before tomorrow, and all through the galaxy, nothing burns as bright as… Christmas Stars.
The Victorians loved their Christmas ghost stories and tales of terrors (need I remind you of The Turn of the Screw so soon?), a tradition which has largely faded, at least in the US. Despite the exhortation in “(It’s the) Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to enjoy “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas long, long ago,” the only Christmas ghosts to regularly make an appearance are those in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But perhaps it’s time to enjoy another sort of Christmas story, that of speculative nature, or fantasy and science fiction. Edited by David G. Hartwell, Christmas Stars features twenty-five (get it?) short stories full of flights of fancy and imagination, and each with at least a touch of the holiday. There are stories set deep in space, on other stars, or amongst the moons of our solar system. There are stories in alternate versions of our world, or the future, and those set in our own mundane reality. Some stories are light-hearted, but others are dark indeed. The stories vary so widely in subject and scope (and quality), that it would be difficult to not find at least one appealing tale in the whole lot.
The most striking of the stories in the collection tend to be the darker ones. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” with its somber take on the Nativity. Moving and very fine is Jack McDevitt’s “Promises to Keep,” and its imperiled exploration mission, and mediation on loneliness and courage. The book’s opener, “Adest Fidelis” by Frederick Pohl, started slowly with a doomed Mars mission, but worked up to a pretty satisfying conclusion. And Joe L. Hensley and Alexei Panshin’s “Dark Conception,” another take on the Nativity, was profoundly disturbing. On a lighter note was the often silly, but still enjoyable “Miracle” by Connie Wilson, which managed to avoid wallowing in sentimentality while simultaneously referencing one of my favorite Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street.
Less impressive was the overly cute and patronizing “Santa Clause Compromise” by Thomas M. Disch, in a version of our world with enfranchised children. Why are some adults incapable of treating children with respect? Bah. James Powell’s “The Plot Against Santa Clause,” discussing an assassination plot by elves at the North Pole was similarly cute and tiresome. But those were probably the worst of an otherwise good lot.
There are some really excellent works in this collection, and its definitely worth checking out from the library to enhance holiday reading. Fans of speculative fiction will enjoy it most, but there are stories that may appeal regardless of one’s fiction predilections. I chose Christmas Stars on a whim, branching out for my holiday reading challenges.
Read also: Chillers for Christmas ed. by Richard Dalby
Cover: Sedate and soothing, with a maroon and navy color scheme, and white and dull gold text. The inset picture is a bit odd, but it looks vaguely seasonal, like a solar system-sized Father Christmas.
She sniffe din reply and went to the end table and turned on her singing cone. She punched out a number–inside, the wafer-thin discs of Venusian heavy water responded with real, throbbing stuff. Quarter of a million earth musicians had played to make those discs. All dissonace matched out by the peculiar properties of the inch-wide Venusian solidified water discs. If you had a perfect recording material and knew what to expect fromt he organ of Corti in the human cochlear structure of the ear, you could even write an equation for the cones’ “perfect” music. Shorty grunted and went out into the cold night with his horn.
He listened. Moon was out; stars were out. A light, crusty snow covered the earth. He could see the lights of Blessington twinkling on the snow. He could hear the voices of far-off carolers. They were fewer every year. He could hear, most of all, the singing cones. From private homes, from the bars, from Salvation Army kettles, Christmas music hung heavy on the air.
29 November – 01 December