My rating: 3 of 5 stars
‘A Cosmic Christmas’, edited by Hank Davis, is an eclectic mix of stories by prominent Baen authors. The stories vary greatly by genre, length and attitude and span several decades of speculative fiction. Not all of them have a ‘Christmas’ theme; for some the setting is merely incidental. Others take full advantage of that setting. The anthology also includes an entertaining introduction by editor Hank Davis and each selection has a foreword, a feature I always look for, and a brief summation of each author’s career. What drew me to ‘A Cosmic Christmas’, however, was the authors. Catherine Asaro, Mark L. Van Name and Sarah A. Hoyt are names I look for when perusing Baen’s catalogue. Also included are Poul Anderson, Mercedes Lackey and Connie Willis. One of the most interesting stories, ‘Roads’ by Seabury Quinn, first appeared in ‘Weird Tales’ in 1938! Yep, it’s an extremely diverse collection.
‘Lobo, Actually’ by Mark. L. Van Name is set before Jon and Lobo become a team. For those of you unfamiliar with the ‘Jon And Lobo’ novels, Lobo is an enhanced machine intelligence dwelling within the skin of a Predator-Class Assault Vehicle (PCAV). In the novels, he is essentially Jon Moore’s partner. He’s smart and a smart arse and the most loyal friend a man could ask for. In the last novel, ‘No Going Back’, we got to know Lobo better through a series of chapters written in from his point of view. ‘Lobo, Actually’ is another rare insight into a mind that is not human and yet exhibits a curiosity and empathy that is eerily familiar.
Weapons systems damaged, Lobo spent a number of years ‘stationed’ on Macken, a backwater planet, as a memorial of a sort. A park sculpture. While his body (the PCAV) remained inert, Lobo continued to explore the galaxy through the network of machine intelligences, following pathways unknown even to the architects of the vast data networks. It’s a local sequence of events that captures his interest, however. A young boy wants to buy a bible from a disreputable second hand dealer. Using his ‘network’, Lobo listens to the drama unfold and decides to step in and help. Not because it’s Christmas but because he can. It’s a really touching story.
I recently read and reviewed ‘Darkship Renegades’ by Sarah A. Hoyt. In that novel, we ‘meet’ Jarl Ingemar, the mule (genetically enhanced human) who was designed as Earth’s ultimate ruler. He’s not an entirely likeable man, but has his sympathetic moments. The reader gets the idea his life has not been easy. ‘Angels In Flight’ is set when Jarl is nineteen and offers a very different perspective on him. He is naïve, brave and almost tragically sweet.
After escaping from the home where he is kept, Jarl encounters a couple who are sympathetic to the plight of mules. In the beginning, mules were seen as specialised labour, designed and bred for specific task. Many of them lacked normal intelligence and all were discriminated against. During the course of later novels, we learn Jarl’s generation is different. In ‘Angels In Flight’, Jarl is still learning about the world and himself. He ends up rescuing the rescuers and the reader is left wondering if he will remember the incident decades later. I think Hoyt has a duty to her readers to write more stories set in between!
When reviewing an anthology, I usually pick my three favourite stories to cover in detail, but often find I need to mention others. Catherine Asaro’s story, ‘Dance In Blue’, a story about a ballet dancer navigating a maze of holograms, highlights again the author’s multiple talents. ‘The Grimnoir Chronicles: A Detroit Christmas’ by Larry Correia has the whole hardboiled detective story feel, with the addition of some interesting magic. ‘The Vampires Who Saved Christmas’ by S. N. Dyer is just plain funny and Mercedes Lackey’s offering, ‘Dumb Feast’, is creepy. Finally, ‘Roads’ by Seabury Quinn reads like an epic adventure and the language is just beautiful.
The last story in the anthology, ‘Newsletter’ by Connie Willis had me asking the question: why am I not reading more Connie Willis? In the tradition of great classics like Heinlein’s ‘The Puppet Masters’ and movies like ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’, Willis explores what happens when everyone suddenly falls sway to the Christmas Spirit. It’s the little things that tip off Nan and her co-worker, Gary. People are being nice and polite and it’s the holidays. Weird. As they begin investigating, they soon discover the nice people are all wearing hats and hatch the theory they have been possessed by aliens. Research includes watching old movies and reading gardening manuals to discover an appropriate pesticide. Interweaving humour and a little romance, “Newsletter” is a great story about Christmas, people and parasites.
To recap, the stories collected in ‘A Cosmic Christmas’ are extremely varied. Some had a nostalgic feel, reminding me of Science Fiction themed anthologies I read thirty years ago and some of the stories are brand new, adding episodes to adventures by authors I’m keeping up with now. It’s a solid collection that well represents Baen as a publisher. I’d love to see the ‘franchise’ extended, perhaps become a yearly edition.
Written for and originally published at SFcrowsnest.