Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy holiday SF memories

Season’s Greetings everyone!

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d indulge in that favourite of yuletide traditions: reminiscing.
Okay, fine, in actual fact my favourite holiday tradition is to belly up to the dining room table with family and friends (especially since in recent years we’ve gathered other merry-makers for an orphan’s Christmas when many of us haven’t been able to make it home to our families for the holidays) for some laughs while we attack a turkey with all the trimmings (save some extra skin for me!).
But since this blog is about SF rather than food (although, admittedly, the subject of food does come up a lot in one way or another – I make no apologies for nods toward one of my other passions), I thought it would be fun to look back to some of, in my opinion, the best SF contributions to the holidays.
For me, no Christmas Eve has been complete since I became an adult without re-reading “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke. There’s a poigniency in any tale about a man grappling with his faith, but in this case it’s all the more interesting because of his shocking discovery in the depths of space, and during the Christmas season no less. Sure, some of the science (notions of supernovaed suns having lasted long enough to spawn planets with intelligent life) is out-dated, but that doesn’t distract from the pathos of the story.
And you can’t have Christmas without Charles Dickons’ “A Christmas Carol”. In an age where there are probably at least a dozen versions of this story on film and tv, it’s always worth it to pick up the book every couple of years and feel and smell the paper as the ghosts drag the Victorian curmudgeon through time and space to bring him around.
Other literary recommendations: “Christmas Stories” from Random House’s “The Charles Dickons Library” to get a look at some of Dickons other, less well-known holiday tales; “Christmas Ghosts”, edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg; “Christmas Stars”, edited by David G. Hartwell; and J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Letters from Father Christmas”.
On to the small screen. Let me say right off the bat I have no fond memories of that great fiasco of the ‘70’s: “Star Wars: Christmas Among the Stars”. This is for the simple reason that I haven’t actually seen the aforementioned train wreck. Granted, I was around when it aired, but I didn’t catch it at the time and Lucas has done a good job in eliminating all traces of it in the years since. I haven’t bothered with trying to track it down on the net yet, but one of this years we’ll probably cross paths (came close a few years back when visiting my folks in Ottawa for the holidays when the club Zaphod Beeblebrox down in the Byward Market screened it one night as part of a theme party, but I had other, family-related duties at the time).
No, my first TV Christmas special loyalty is to a program that’s nearly equally as rare: “John Denver and the Muppets Christmas”. While the more recent “Muppets Christmas Carol” gets aired nearly every year, the older Henson production is pretty much unknown these days. In fact, I was pleasantly shocked out of my boots back in the mid ‘90’s when the record companies finally transferred all the old songs from that special onto CD. For years we’d been listening to a somewhat scratchy recording of the show on an original vinyl LP my mom had bought for us that had been releasaed back in the ‘70’s when the show first aired. No Christmas is complete without hearing the Muppets’ wacky renditions of the classics. For years when I was a kid, the Muppet version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” was the only version I knew, and I was surprised as tyke to learn that you weren’t actually supposed to yell “ba-dump-bump-bump!” like Miss Piggy after the 5 gold rings verse halfway through the song.
While many people will profess their loyalties to the original animated “Frosty the Snowman” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and other examples of puppetronic ilk, as much as I enjoyed them as a kid, they don’t hold the same interest for me as an adult. No, give me that rollicking late ‘80’s cartoon “The Tick”. Most especially, the episode entitled “The Tick Loves Christmas”. I nearly killed myself laughing during that one, especially when the security elves lock-down Arthur’s apartment and Santa arrives to convince the Tick he has to see the difference between himself (jolly old St. Nick, that is) and the evil Santa clones plaguing the city. “Now, Tick, I’m grateful that you’ve believed in me longer than any sane adult would, but it’s time to put that aside so you can fight the bad Santas.”
Rounding out the Top Three holiday tv specials, a nice little tongue-in-cheek animated production out of the UK entitled “Father Christmas” (or as I tend to remember it: “Another Bloomin’ Christmas”), which shows the off-season adventures of a somewhat foul-mouthed Father Christmas as he takes a much-needed vacation. Hats off to the Brits for loving Santa enough to be able to show him getting the turkey-trots after eating some bad food in Mexico. I think this one was cooked up by the same studio which did an earlier, quiet little feature called “The Snowman” (my wife’s favourite of the season).
In film, I’ve gotta give an honourable mention to a favourite of my mother’s side of the family: the old black and white version of “A Christmas Carol” starring Alistair Sim. A must watch.
But, that being said, my heart truly lies with the funnier, updated ode to the reform of a die-hard capitalist that came to us in the late ‘80’s: “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen it over the Christmases since it first came out, but I laugh every time. That’s the true test of a comedy.
Also, another honourable mention. This one in a bit of a strange direction… one of my all-time cinematic guilty pleasures: “Walt Disney’s The Black Hole”. Don’t think this is a Christmas movie? In the beginning when the crew of the Palomino comes across the seemingly derilect U.S.S. Cygnus, and the larger cruiser suddenly hits the lights, co-pilot Charlie Pizer remarks “Just like a tree on Christmas morning”. And that’s not just a convenient simile either – the novelization by Alan Dean Foster sets the story on Christmas Day, with the aforementioned Mr. Pizer just sitting down to a reconstituted turkey dinner when he gets the call from the robot Vincent to come to the bridge.
Why would I give “The Black Hole” the time of day when so many, like my brother, hate it with a passion? That’s a discussion for another entry. For now, my wife’s calling me down to Christmas Eve dinner, and of course, food and family are the most important parts of the holiday.
So, whatever you celebrate, be it Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Festivus-for-the-rest-of-us, some other religious festival, or even just a couple of well-earned days off from work, may you have a happy holiday season with good folks around you, plenty to eat and peace in your heart.

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