A Yuletide Universe: Sixteen Fantastical Tales ed. by Brian M. Thomsen
Aspect, 1st edition, 2003
Genre: Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction, short stories, Christmas
Synopsis & Review: The Christmas season (which for me lasts from just before Thanksgiving till January 7th) is an excellent one for indulging in short stories. For one, you’ve got the longstanding tradition of stories told ‘round the Yule fire. For another, many of us are so busy that we cannot quite commit to long novels, and a good anthology of short stories provides merriment or scares in small but satisfying doses in between shopping expeditions and baking extravaganzas, house tidying and decorating.
I had my eye on this one from the start of the holiday reading challenges. Boasting luminaries such as Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, how could I not enjoy it?
The collection is divided into four self-explanatory sections: Santa Shorts, Santa Substitutes, Variations on the Holiday Theme, Classic Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Whimsy. The tone in each section varies wildly from tale to tale, from the gleefully malicious (Westlake) to the pensive (McHugh) to the bizarre (Ellison, natch). It’s a very even anthology; though some stories are head and shoulders above the others, none were bad—a very good thing indeed. Repeats from my last anthology (Christmas Stars) include: Anne McCaffrey’s sweet “A Proper Santa Clause,” Connie Willis’ goofy “Miracle,” and the lesser “The Plot Against Santa Clause” by James Powell. I was unimpressed by L. Frank Baum’s “A Kidnapped Santa Claus,” which was a little too whimsical for my tastes.
Among the standouts was Clive Barker’s “The Yattering and Jack,” one I vaguely remembered from The Books of Blood, and was delighted to rediscover. (If you can get past the cat murders, it’s enormously funny.) I was also charmed by Bret Harte’s “How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar,” an O.Henry-esque story if there ever were one; I will have to check out more of that Western writer’s work. Donald Westlake’s “Nackles” is pleasantly disturbing, recounting an unpleasant Santa alternate from the mind of an unlikable man. And relating to The Man Who Invented Christmas is Howard Waldrop’s odd “Household Words; Or, the Powers-That-Be,” an alternate universe’s version of Dickens and his work.
Very highly recommended by me, myself, and I, A Yuletide Universe would make a delightful seasonal gift for nearly any fan of short stories or speculative fiction.
Read also: Christmas Stars ed. by David G. Hartwell, Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
Cover: Really fantastic cover, with a Victorian or Edwardian Santa scene featuring touches of the fantastic: a peeping robot and wizard, unicorn and rocketship toys, a truly cosmic Christmas tree. Just stunning. I am stunned. I’d love it for the cover alone, I swear.
Did God create men, or does Man create gods? I don’t know, and if it hadn’t been for my rotten brother-in-law the question would never have come up. My late brother-in-law? Nackles knows.
It all depends, you see, like the chicken and the egg, on which came first. Did God exist before Man first thought of Him, or didn’t He? If not, if Man creates his gods, then it follows that Man must create the devils, too.
12 December – 15 December