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Christmas Magic
edited by David G. Hartwell
Tor, $18.99, 495 pp
Published: November 2016

This paperback reprinting of a classic anthology is a loving tribute to one of the best, and best beloved, editors to ever launch the careers of SF writers: David Hartwell.  It is rare for an anthology to be reprinted, so count yourselves fortunate that this one is available again. With contributions from Harlan Ellison (at his most whimsical), Alan Dean Foster, Kit Reed, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, James P. Hogan, Madeline Robins, and Donald Westlake, all at the top of their game, this is unburied treasure.

The first story, “Scramblepipe Tries to Understand…” is attributed to Anonymous; perhaps that means it was a Hartwell story that his friends insisted he include; in any event, it is a charming diversion. In Westlake’s “Nackles" a dangerous addition to the Santa Claus legend comes to life, rather along the lines of the old, mostly forgotten Zuarte Piet (Black Peter). “Another Dime, Another Place” by A. J. Austin continues the Dickensian tradition of heartwarming, supernatural transformation — with teleportation — but in a modern context. By contrast, “Bedlam Inn”, by Robins, takes place during Britain’s war with Spain during the Napoleonic era, so it has a Regency air to it.

One of the oddest stories is “An Old-Fashioned Bird Christmas” by Margaret St. Clair. It is a wild mix of retro Christianity, pagan practices, aggressive marketing subterfuge, and magic. The ending struck me as hilarious, but I have a warped sense of humor. Donald A. Wollheim’s contribution is “Santa Rides a Saucer”, and just as you would expect from that title, it puts a science fiction spin of the Christmas visitation. Another of my favorites is “Grandfather Christmas” by Robert Frazier and James Patrick Kelly. This story was so good — and so cutting edge for its time — that I looked up the authors to find more where this came from. Well worth the effort. These boys know how to play with tech concepts. And another outstanding exploration of how traditions evolve is the Hugo-winning “The Nutcracker Coup” by Janet Kagan.

That’s just a sampling of the 28 tales. They venture through many times, places, moods, and realities. Some set me pondering, others set me laughing; the best did both. The best use for this book is to make it part of your own holiday tradition by finding favorites to read annually.  – Chris Wozney

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