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Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
Connie Willis
Bantam Spectra, 336 pages

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
Connie Willis
Connie Willis was born in 1945 in Denver, Colorado. Her first SF publication was "The Secret of Santa Titicaca" published in Worlds of Fantasy, the Winter 1970-71 issue. For her first novel, she collaborated with Cynthia Felice on Water Witch. She has won Hugo and Nebula Awards for Fire Watch, "The Last of the Winnebagos," Doomsday Book and "Even the Queen," a Hugo Award for "Death on the Nile," and Nebula Awards for "A Letter for the Clearys" and "At the Rialto." To Say Nothing of the Dog has won the Hugo for Best Novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards 33
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Christmas stories by Connie Willis have been a semi-regular feature of December issues of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine since 1986. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories collects the 6 such stories she has published in Asimov's along with two new novellas.

The Christmas story seems a natural in Willis' hands. She is, ironically for a writer so noted for science fiction, perhaps most at home chronicling the absurdities of contemporary life. Few SF writers have so often dealt with the contemporary workplace: with Dilbert's subject matter (perhaps most notably in her short novel Bellwether). She is also at home in the kitchen, preparing Holiday dinners or washing up after them. And, almost uniquely among SF writers, she deals with ordinary contemporary religious observance. So often SF writers are so focused on events of epic scope that they forget these details. Religion in SF is the Kwisatz-Haderach, or ominous temple priests. But here we have "Inn," about a choir member in a fairly typical American Protestant church, and "Epiphany," about a Presbyterian minister.

The high points of this collection are the opening and closing stories. We begin with the title story. "Miracle" is a romantic comedy, a familiar form for Willis. The narrator is a single woman working in a 'typical' office. Christmas is coming, and she's worried about what to get for the person for whom she's Secret Santa, and what to wear to the office Christmas party, and how to attract cute Scott Buckley's attention. Then an angel, or spirit, turns up in her living room, and throws all her plans into disarray. With the help of fat Fred Hatch, the only other person at the office who likes Miracle on 34th Street more than It's a Wonderful Life, she finally sorts things out, and gets her heart's desire. It's funny and heartwarming.

The closing story is more serious. "Epiphany" is new to this collection, and it's wonderful and moving. A Presbyterian minister has an epiphany in the middle of a sermon, and decides that the Second Coming has just occurred, and he needs to travel west to find Jesus. He sets off in the middle of January, and runs into snow and bad roads and accidents and Nebraska. His atheist friend tracks him down and tries to drag him back. It's a quiet story, mostly about the people involved. It's interesting to see how the same sort of madcap coincidences and problems that are played for laughs in her other stories are used here to other effect. This is one of Willis' best short stories, and that's high praise indeed.

The other new story is "Cat's Paw," a novella about a great detective, Trouffet, who is summoned to the Suffolk mansion of Lady Charlotte Valladay for Christmas, and supposedly to unravel a mystery. Lady Charlotte is a leading sponsor of research into primate intelligence, and she has several enhanced higher primates as servants. She has summoned Trouffet and his assistant, and some journalists, and an animal rights activist who opposes her research. This volatile grouping leads to a murder, and Trouffet is forced to solve it. The story is mostly comic, but there is a serious core to it. It's not bad, but the mystery element is quite strained, and the whole setup is a bit too artificial.

Other highlights are "Inn," about a choir member who encounters a mysterious couple on Christmas Eve, looking for shelter, and "Adaptation," about a divorced man and his difficulty with seeing his daughter, filtered through an encounter with the Spirits from A Christmas Carol. "Newsletter" is fun to read, about a plague of niceness, which might have sinister results, but it comes off a bit strained, as well. "The Pony" is a brief, moving, story about getting what you really want for Christmas, and "In Coppelius' Toyshop" is a horror story about an unpleasant man, lost in an F.A.O. Schwarz analogue.

Willis is almost always at least fun to read, and often very moving. Even though this collection is restricted to Christmas stories, it reveals her wide range just as well as her previous collection does. Definitely worth reading, at any season of the year.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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