You can’t go wrong with a Christmas story by Connie Willis. She’s able to capture a warm gooey feeling while unironically embracing what typically happens at that time of year. Her collection ‘Miracle and other Christmas Stories’ contains most of these, which feature anything from writing a family newsletter while growing paranoid that a bodysnatcher-type alien invasion is going on, to a choirmaster finding Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve and trying to hide them from the various choir rehearsals, decorators and the tyrannical church warden.
This story is not included in the collection, but it’s possibly my favourite. The synopsis is simple. It’s Christmas Eve with many characters across the United States. One person is putting up with her sister trying to have her perfect wedding that evening. Another is by herself, manufacturing large amounts of food for her family that’s due to arrive shortly. Another is in Florida, enjoying the sun, trying to forget that their partner died on Christmas Day last year. And a host of other characters, quickly and deftly made likeable.
It begins to snow. Over the whole country, regardless of climate or predicted forecasts; the weathermen are baffled. It snows everywhere, piling up and giving everyone in the United States a white Christmas. And the disruption from the snow causes all sorts of happy outcomes for the characters.
As I said, this story captures that sense of seasonal joy and makes it a delight to read. And on a technical level this is really impressive. There are a huge number of characters in this, yet they’re all given clear, distinct personalities, and every arc has a satisfying conclusion.
Have a merry Christmas, and season’s eatings to you all. (Or if you’ve just stumbled across this in the archives many months from now, happy Easter.)
Just Like the Ones We Used to Know by Connie Willis
Availability: print only
Word count: 18,000
First published: Asimov’s Dec 2003
Where to find it: Best Short Novels: 2004, edited by Jonathan Strahan, 2004, Science Fiction Book Club
Modern Greats of Science Fiction: Nine Novellas of Distinction, edited by Jonathan Strahan, 2006, ibooks
The Winds of Marble Arch and other stories, collection, 2007, Subterranean Press