Review: Christmas Magic ed. by David G. Hartwell

Christmas Magic 2016 cover

Just in time for the holidays and in memory of award winning editor David G. Hartwell (1941-2016), TOR Books brings fandom the reissued publication of a spirited yuletide collection of short stories. Filled with wonder and enchantment, Christmas Magic is sure to put hours of smiles on that special someone’s face.

Christmas Magic begins with “Scramblepipe Tries to Understand by an Anonymous writer, a humorous perspective on the logic behind the notion that Christmas is coming. It doesn’t start with an overused “T’was the night,” but there is still plenty of clever wordplay. And in the end, the “scientific” discovery a pair of curious gnomes make after coming full circle on their journey in search of Christmas turns metaphoric irony into a silly conclusion that will still bring a smile to your face…after your probable groan.

To complete the list, the titles and writers included in this assemblage include:


“Scramblepipe Tries to Understand: The Gnomes Who Set Out for Christmas and Found That the World Is Round” by Anonymous

“Nackles” (1964) by Donald Westlake

“Another Dime, Another Place” (1991) by A.J. Austin

Bedlam Inn” (1994) by Madeleine Robins

“The Last Castle of Christmas” (1993) by Alexander Jablokov

“An Old-Fashioned Bird Christmas” (1961) by Margaret St. Clair

“The Wild Wood” by (1957) Mildred Clingerman

“Santa Rides a Saucer” (1969) by Donald A. Wollheim

“Grandfather Christmas” (1994) by Robert Frazier and James Patrick Kelly

“The Outpost Undiscovered by Tourists: A Tale of Three Kings and a Star for This Sacred Season” (1981) by Harlan Ellison

“Diesel Dream” (1991) by Alan Dean Foster

“Santa Clause” (1958) by Robert F. Young

“Grandma Babka’s Christmas Ginger” (1994) by Ken Wiseman

“Death in the Christmas Hour” (1983) by James Powell

“The Boxing Day Spectre “(1993) by Kit Reed

“The Toy Mill” (1992) by David Nickle and Karl Schroeder

“The Hundred-Year Christmas” (1983) by David Morrell

“Santa’s Tenth Reindeer” (1984) by Gordon Van Gelder

“Tick” (1994) by M.J. Engh

“Merry Gravmas” (1988) by James P. Hogan

“The Nutcracker Coup” (1992) by Janet Kagan

“Training Talk No. 12” (1971) by David R. Bunch

“The Last Belsnickel” (1994) by Chet Williamson

“A Child’s Christmas in Florida” (1993) by William Browning Spencer

“LaZelle Family Christmas” (1993) by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

“Ixchel’s Tears” (1994) by Jose R. Nieto

“A Midnight Clear” (1994) by Wil McCarthy and Gregory R. Hyde

“Household Words: Or The Power-That-Be” (1993) by Howard Waldrop


Amazing Stories Winter 1994 issue

Though this collection is a reprint from 1994, many of the contributors are already well established (aside from the “anonymous” writer, of course). It should also be noted that some of these stories have been previously published elsewhere, prior to this grouping. In fact, the final installment here written by Howard Waldrop found its initial publication a few months earlier in the Winter 1994 edition of our own Amazing Stories (then under the umbrella of TSR, Inc., most noted for their influence on D&D products and fandom).

Closing the book with Waldrop’s story Household Words: Or The Power-That-Be was an interesting choice by editor Hartwell. In a retelling of the classic “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, our narrator combines the author’s experience of publicly reading his holiday classic to hordes of fans while interjecting with anecdotes about the story’s conception. I’m not sure if changing the character names and events in the original story as spoken by this fictional Dickens is due to copyright reasons, but some of these changes are a bit distracting, leaving the reader at a loss when trying to believe the story. Oddly, what stands out the most is the life-imitating-art element as some of the events of the story are eerily comparable to the fictional Dickens’ own work ethics and desires of success.

Christmas Magic 1994 cover

With a whimsical cover by artist Nick Jainschigg of Santa riding in a sleigh pulled by a quartet of white unicorns, the original 1994 paperback might overshadow the more subdued wintery snowflake Tor chose for this go-round of Christmas Magic, but the same lineup remains intact and is still a fun list of works and well deserving of this literary reanimation. In all, “t’was” a fun read. Because some of these stories deserve a lot more time and in-depth analysis than can be provided in a single post, perhaps we may consider returning every holiday season for a closer look at some of these stories. Heck, why stop there? David G. Hartwell had an earlier holiday collection titled Christmas Stars from Tor Books back in 1992 too. Hey, “t’is the season!”

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