Carolyn Cushman Reviews A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi and Grave Importance by Vivian Shaw

John Scalzi, A Very Scalzi Christmas (Subterranean 978-1-59606-932-9, $40.00, 142pp, hc) November 2019. Cover by Natalie Metzger.

For a fancy stocking stuffer, this collection of holiday items, most originally published on Scalzi’s Whatever blog, presents a mix of hilarious Santa snark and heartwarming sentiment, with a mix of lists, poems, interviews with some of Santa’s helpers, stories, and more. Three items are brand new, but many of the older items are the sort of thing you could re-read every year and still laugh – my favorite is “An Interview with Santa’s Lawyer”, a truly eye-opening look at Santa’s operations. Scalzi has a warped mind and a true fondness for Christmas, and the results can be truly wondrous. Many items have a SFnal attitude that may require a little reading between the lines, while others are overt, such as the “Science Fictional Thanksgiving Grace”, which gives thanks for a bunch of apocalyptic things that could have happened but didn’t, and really makes you wonder about Cousin Chet. More than a few pieces take pot-shots at the entertainment industry: “The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time” and “Script Notes on The Birth of Jesus” were real standouts for me, but Christmas carols, particularly “Rudolph the Red-nosed Raindeer” come in for flak more than once. A couple of stories are truly touching; one actually made me cry. Much of the humor would probably be over kids’ heads, but I could see this becoming a holiday standard for older folks with a fondness for the season and the right sense of humor.

Vivian Shaw, Grave Importance (Orbit US 978-0-316-43465-2, $15.99, 395pp, tp) September 2019. Cover by Will Staehle.

Dr. Greta Helsing, physician to the differently alive, returns for the third and apparently final volume in her quirky fantasy series. This time, a colleague calls asking for her help at a special spa for mummies in France. Glad for a chance to escape rainy England, Greta agrees, looking forward to seeing the noted facility, which boasts the latest in medical technol­ogy for the undead. Once there, she finds some of the mummies suffering from mysterious fainting spells. Then her vampire friend Edmund Ruthven becomes seriously ill, and with some help from the powers of Hell itself, it becomes clear that reality itself is in danger. Vampires, demons, mummies, an Egyptian god, remedial psychopomps, Dr. Faust, and some misguided angels all come into play in a very differ­ent war between Heaven and Hell. The tension takes a bit of time to build, but the big battle is a dramatic thrill ride, followed by a long, amusing denouement, mixing parties in Hell, laughs, reevaluations, and even a wedding, for a charming cap to a delightful series.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the November 2019 issue of Locus.

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