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A Lot Like Christmas by Connie Willis (book review).

January 11, 2019 | By | Reply More

Bibliographical stuff first: this is a hugely expanded edition of Willis’s ‘Miracle And Other Christmas Stories’ from Bantam, 1999. Added is her story ‘All About Emily’, previously published only as a slim hardcover by Subterranean Press and several of her stories that have appeared in December issues of ‘Asimov’s Magazine’ since 1999. So this is a collection of mainly novelettes about aspects of Christmas, some SF, some fantasy and one a Sherlock Holmes parody. But Del Rey have been honest about it, acknowledging its status as a partial reprint on the front cover and the title page.

Willis writes serious stories and comic stories with equal ease and these are the latter. She’s very clever at handling farce, with plenty of dialogue and frenzied action. In this way, 40- and 50-page stories rush by, seeming shorter.

‘All About Emily’ is all about show business and an ambitious robot, gushingly narrated by Claire Havilland, a fading star. Every page contains theatre and film references and the strong feelings of Claire. It’s very entertaining. ‘Now Showing’ does something similar with the future of film sequels and multiplex cinemas with many titles and a frantic plot. But it’s also a love story. Lindsay and her college friends are making a pre-Christmas visit to a huge multiplex with dozens of films showing, then her ex-boyfriend turns up and a conspiracy has to be sorted out.

More Christmassy is ‘Miracle’ which is another love story about an office gearing itself up for the ghastly rigmarole of Secret Santa, office decorations, presents for colleagues, and the office party with who to go with, what to wear, more gifts to buy and wrap. Maybe they get some work done during the other eleven months of the year. It’s also a fantasy about conservation and an argument about the best Christmas film ever. Willis always stuffs her stories with multiple plots and themes. Even more Christmassy is ‘deck.halls@boughs/holly’, another love story featuring Linny Chiang who runs a business in the future which specialises in creating fantasy Christmases on hundreds of different themes for rich clients.

There’s a fantasy story about a church nativity play and immigrants in ‘Inn’. There’s an SF love story ‘All Seated On The Ground’ about a visiting group of humanoid aliens who refuse to communicate but, eventually, react to Christmas carols. ‘Adaptation’ concerns the characters from Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol And A Bookshop At Christmas’. ‘In Coppelius’s Toyshop’ is supernatural horror.

‘Cat’s Paw’ is a Great Detective murder mystery. Even allowing for the fact that it is intentionally a parody with a cast of extremely unlikely and over-the-top characters, this has a weak and coincidence-driven plot, together with a very uncertain and contradictory time and place location. It’s not well-researched and she should have asked a Brit to read it through. Another unconvincing tale and love story is ‘Newsletter’, all about boasting Christmas letters, hats and suspected alien invasion.

The two final stories, ‘Epiphany’ and ‘Just Like The Ones We Used To Know’ concern snow at Christmas that is so heavy that it prevents people from getting to their destinations. ‘Epiphany’, like ‘Inn’ and ‘All Seated On The Ground’, is a Christian religion story. ‘Just Like…’ seems for many pages to be too bitty, with too many characters, as deep snow blankets the whole of the US, though gradually the disparate stories become clear, with many happy endings and even a love story.

But Willis doesn’t leave it at that. She adds an ‘Introduction’ saying how much she enjoys Christmas, together with three appendices of recommended Christmas films, stories and TV shows.

The whole package is light-hearted, often warm-hearted and, despite a few rough edges, fun to read.

Chris Morgan

January 2019

(pub: Del Rey/Penguin/Random House, 2017. 518 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.00 (US), $23.00 (CAN), £13.95 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-399-18234-1)

check out websites: www.randomhousebooks.com and www.conniewillis.net

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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