BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of eleven pieces of holiday-themed short fiction.
PROS: Imaginative ideas; clear writing; well-placed humor.
CONS: The list-like infodump writing technique is all too evident when reading the stories back to back.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine collection of science fiction stories to be enjoyed any time of year.
It is to the benefit of this blog that Jeff Patterson has been contributing to our comments section over the past couple of years. His observations are both insightful and fun. So how well, I asked myself, does this come across in his new collection of holiday tales? Very well, thank you.
In Solstice Chronicles, which collects eleven pieces of Patterson’s short fiction that were originally created for his annual holiday cards, ordinary things like Christmas Trees, seasons and snowmen become characters, and believably so. Every story features cool sf-nal ideas that support the main premise. The stories may be short, but none lack impact; most have some deeper theme that lends weight to it. Like the feel-good “In the Valley of Years”, where Old Man New Year passes the Staff of Time to Baby New Year, we see that there is good in the world despite the bad stuff that seems to overwhelm and sadden us. A battle-weary knight named Jaran seeks answers in the thoughtful story “In the Citadel of the Solstice”. After a long, arduous quest he finds those answers and his salvation. In “The Snowman’s Tale”, a man sent to preserve the relics of a dispersed humanity makes a most unusual find on the icy moon of Europa. Here, a downright hokey-sounding premise becomes quite believable.
While “Coin of the Realm” – about a magical coin shop in a crowded mall – lacks the extra depth of the other stories, it still manages to throw several imaginative ideas at you, exemplifying another quality of Patterson’s writing. All the stories exhibit a love for the genre through imagination, thus explaining the immersive quality they have. The core idea of each fantastical story is solid. In the entertaining “World without Holidays”, for example, a Scrooge-like professor bent on maximizing research time travels to other dimensions in search of the perfect world. With “In the Orchard of the Ancients”, Patterson transplants a tree to an alien world, the home to other strange and wondrous trees. The narrator of “Thrilling Holiday Tales” is the girlfriend of a wildly successful adventurer who, unfortunately for her, is always away on some heroic deed. Maybe her love’s nemesis can help put an end to that? The narrator of well-written “One of the Family” isn’t even human; Jacob is the super-advanced automated house of a couple who are welcoming their kids back from the holidays.
The stories cover a range of presentation, some more effective than others. A mother pens a holiday card that list-dumps quick glimpses at technological advancements in the story “In the Last Days of the Age”. While the ideas of the Lunar Base, The Jetpack Racing League and water fusion cars are cool, to be sure, I think they would have worked better in, say, the 30th century rather than the far-flung “future” of the year 2000. Better was hilariously well-done “In the City of Winter’s Reign”, a take on the coming of winter with smack-talk that’s reminiscent of the brothers Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus. In another humorous story, “Eating at Joe’s”, the protagonist not only learns that different cultures have different customs, but also that the true nature of Ultimate Evil is quite unassuming. Or maybe not.
Good seeds do indeed make for good stories and Patterson shows more than just competency in his writing; he shows skill and a fond familiarity with the genre. Don’t be tempted to rat-hole Solstice Chronicles as mere holiday reading. Although each story does include some element of the holidays, the emphasis is on the science fiction and can be enjoyed any time of year.