In a rare fit of festivity, I compiled a list of holiday time books with science fiction, fantasy, horror, or superhero themes. So when you get bored between December 25 and January 5, here is a great way to spend the 12 Days of Christmas — reading!
Day 1 (December 25): Classic Christmas Wonder
Long read: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The classic Christmas story! The greedy and grumpy Ebeneezer Sc
rooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The original text is available for free on Project Gutenberg. Looking for a Christmas Carol twist? There are countless variations, including several graphic novels, a gender-bending version with Eliza Scrooge (issued by Dark Horse), sequels, prequels, versions with zombies, and even a play written in Klingon. My personal favorite stars Batman and his peers in Batman: Noel, written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo.
Short read: The Gift by Ray Bradbury
This is a story filled with wonder, about the magic of the season beyond the gifts and decorations. On their first spaceship journey, a family finds a way to celebrate Christmas. It’s a quick read and fairly easy to find online.
Day 2 (December 26): Fairy Tales Old and New
This infant Claus is found in the Forest of Burzee and raised by The Master Woodsman, a lioness, and a wood nymph. As he grows up, he moves to the Laughing Valley, invents toys, gathers his reindeer, and gains immortality. In typical Baum fashion, this book is filled with whimsical places, loyal friends, and clever word origins. You may recognize this story from TV Christmas specials! The original text is available for free through Project Gutenberg.
Short read: Matchless: A Christmas Story by Gregory Maguire
Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s sad story “The Little Match Girl”, this short story features a secretive boy who’s life is delicately intertwined with the Match Girl’s. Commissioned for NPR in 2008, the full text is available online.
Day 3 (December 27): Early 20th Century Inspiration
Written for his children between 1920 and 1942, this book is a collection of illustrations and letters written by Father Christmas (or his elf assistant). Each letter contains an adventure about Father Christmas, his assistants, and the North Pole Bears. There are goblin battles, fireworks, and workshop shenanigans. Keep an eye out for commentary on contemporary events, including the British financial crisis and World War II. Fans of Tolkien’s more famous works will find many precursors to Middle Earth in these letters and illustrations. If purchasing, make sure to buy the newest version of the book that includes all the letters.
Short read: The Festival by H. P. Lovecraft
Set near Arkham, a man searches for his family’s traditional Yuletide celebration and, in true Lovecraft fashion, finds much more than he can fathom, including the haunting Necronomicon. Published in Weird Tales, January 1925, this story is one of the first in the Cthulhu Mythos. The story is available for free on Wikisource.
Day 4 (December 28): Happy Freaky Holidays
NSFW. In this twisted tale, Santa’s lewd past catches up to him when the Tooth Fairy decides to seduce him. The Easter Bunny, lusting after Anya (Mrs. Claus), reveals her husband’s infidelity. Part acid trip, part pornography, and part Jacobean drama, this erotic novel is one strange, perverted ride. And if you enjoy this classic, Devereaux has a few sequels, including Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes and Santa Claus Saves the World. Again, NSFW.
Short read: ‘Tis the Season by China Miéville
Feeling radical? Angry with the capitalization of Christmas? In a classically Miéville-ian tale, a father tries to give his daughter a perfect Christmas™ in hyper-privatized England. On their way to YuleCo’s spectacular Christmas™ party, both father and daughter get caught up in a clash between cops and supporters fighting for the People’s Christmas. Available for free at the Socialist Review.
Day 5 (December 29): The Other Side of Christmas
Long read: Krampus, the Yule Lord by Brom
After 4 days of Santa, it’s time for a novel starring his counterpart: Krampus. In Brom’s book, Krampus seeks revenge from Santa Claus for imprisoning him and hijacking his Yuletide season. The story is largely told by Jesse, a down-on-his-luck guitarist. This book is funny, action-packed, and well-written — Santa is not all warm-and-fuzzies (he’s more like a viking) and Krampus is not all doom-and-gloom. You can see the beautiful art from Brom’s book on io9. If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, this book is a must-read!
Short read: And When They Appear by Gene Wolfe
In this coming-of-age story, a young boy’s advanced robotic house attempts to teach him about Christmas traditions. It’s a fairly disturbing tale that addresses themes of faith and familial loss (reminds me a bit of “There Will Come Soft Rains” from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles with a dash of M.R. James).
Day 6 (December 30): Uprisings in Outer Space
Medium read: A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card
This novella takes place at the International Fleet’s Battle School from Ender’s Game, where a pacifist new student tattles on some other students gift-giving during the holiday season. Because expression of religion is forbidden, the children have started rebelling by giving each other secular “Santa Claus” gifts. This novella takes place during Ender’s first year at the Battle School, showing how compassion and diversity can change one’s perspective.
Medium read: The Nutcracker Coup by Janet Kagan
This novella won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 1993. On a distant planet, an alien race becomes inspired by The Nutcracker Suite and the traditional human holidays of Christmas and Martin Luther King Day to rebel against their social structure. The story reminds me a bit of a Star Trek episode — when a foreign culture starts to mix with the home world’s culture, what will happen?
Day 7 (December 31): Otherworldly Holiday Rescues
Long read: Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
To celebrate the eve of Hogswatchnight (December 32), I recommend reading 20th Discworld novel, Hogfather. In a (familiar) world in which belief is running low, Death and his granddaughter, Susan, must rescue Hogswatch after the Hogfather is kidnapped. This is a sharp satire of Christmas with Pratchett’s laugh-out-loud humor. Don’t be scared by that giant number “20” — this is a fun book even for those unacquainted with Discworld.
Short read: In The Late December by Greg van Eekhout
Billions of years from now, when the universe is on its last fumes, Santa still delivers gifts to the remaining consciousness clusters. But entropy is catching up.... This weird and touching story was nominated for Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 2003. Available for free on Strange Horizons.
Day 8 (January 1): Hardboiled Christmastime Crime
Let’s kick off the New Year with some noir crime! A tiny blue horse named Happy appears to Nick Sax, a corrupt ex-cop, in order to rescue some children in this gritty Christmas graphic novel. Featuring gun fights, hired assassins, hookers, alcoholism, a junkie child-killing Santa Claus, and more swear words than you can shake a stick at. For folks who like their heroes dark, flawed, and cynical (and for those who like Grant Morrison), this mini-series is a great Christmas read!
Harry The Book (a bookie) must ensure Bet-A-Million McNabb’s debt comes in safely. With help from Dead End Dugan (a zombie), Big-Hearted Milton (a mage), Nick the Saint, and his loyal flunkies, Harry challenges Loose Lips Louie to a game of wits in order to win back his (and McNabbs’s) money. Available for free at Baen Books.
Day 9 (January 2): Festive Screwball Mishaps
Long read: The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore
The town Pine Cove is filled with messy, funny characters, including a B-movie actress, a pot-addicted cop, a pet fruit bat, a dead “Santa”, and a boy who wishes for Santa to come back to life. Enter Raziel, the titular angel who grants that little boy’s wish... resulting in zombie Santa. This book is classic Christopher Moore — fans of his writing will notice some familiar characters.
Short read: Miracle by Connie Willis
A sweet story about a woman who meets the Ghost of Christmas Present (as in Gift, not Here and Now). It’s part 90s romance (I had a lot of flashbacks to 1993), part Miracle on 34th Street. This short story is featured in Willis’s anthology Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, which I highly recommend reading if you enjoy Miracle.
Day 10 (January 3): The Season for Kids and Candy
When four siblings go exploring in their caretaker’s manor, they discover a wardrobe that opens a door to Narnia — a land where it’s always wintertime but never Christmas. The land has been in the iron grip of the White Witch, but soon the Great Lion, Aslan, will free the land from never-ending winter and tyranny. This novel is classic winter read — it is consistently voted one of the best fantasy books of all time (and, as a popular allegory for Christianity, it may make up for missing church). This book is also available in movie format and graphic novel format.
Short read: The Sugarplum Favor by Tad Williams
A young boy dreads the walk home and the inevitable confrontation with a bully. But with help from a sugarplum fairy, the boy teaches the bully a lesson. A sweet story about family, religion, and the power of candy. Available for free on Tad William’s website.
Day 11 (January 4): Symbols of Hope
It’s the holiday season, and Superman attempts to solve world hunger, believing that one large act of compassion will inspire others to help make the world better. This is everything you love about Superman — sentimental, deeply good-hearted, and heroic. And who doesn’t love Paul Dini?? Alex Ross’s art is gorgeous — realistic, colorful, and poetic.
Short read: The Star by Arthur C. Clarke
A beautiful story about a Jesuit astrophysicist, millions of miles from Earth, trying to reason God with a supernova after making a life-changing discovery. Clark brilliantly conveys space travel as daunting, lonely, and existential. This story is fairly easy to find online.
Day 12 (January 5): Time to Kick the Christmas Habit
Long read: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Say goodbye to the holiday season with this thrilling novel by Joe Hill. Our kick-ass heroine, Victoria McQueen, must hunt down the serial killer Charles Manx — a spirit-sucking psychopath who drags children to his very own “Christmasland”. Featuring everything you love from Joe Hill: badass female characters, classic cars, excellent fight scenes, and enthusiastic horror. This book is phenomenal — it’s my number 1 holiday pick!
Short read: Nicholas Was... by Neil Gaiman
A 100 word poem that was originally printed in 1989 — it was used on a Christmas card illustrated by David McKean (Sandman). This poem is classic Gaiman and has inspired illustrations, videos, and even a pop-up book. Full text is available on io9!
BONUS! Day 0 (December 24): A Ghostly Christmas Eve
This Christmas Eve, pour yourself some egg nog, gather your family and friends around the fire, and read aloud any one of the amazing ghost stories by M.R. James. Although the stories don’t have Christmas-y plot lines, it is a long-standing British tradition to read aloud the stories of Montague Rhodes James on Christmas Eve. (Check out the BBC’s series “A Ghost Story for Christmas” for live adaptations of M.R. James’s most popular stories.) And the best news of all — M.R. James’ works are available for free through Project Gutenberg.
Happy New Year, io9!
All photos from Wikipedia and Goodreads.
Am I missing any excellent holiday/winter reads? What else should should be on the 12 Days of Reading list?