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TSS: Twas the weekend before Christmas…

December 19, 2010

The Sunday…and all through the house, Nicki was not getting any reading done because she was too busy frantically trying to finish the six million presents she sort of accidentally promised people that she’d knit by Christmas.


Seriously, though, I have knit a lot over the past two weeks or so (not to mention at a more leisurely pace during November), and while I can see the light at the end of the (carpal) tunnel, I’m not so sure that it’s not the overhead light in an operating theater while a surgeon struggles to reattach my hands that have both fallen off at the wrist.

Anyways, as a result, I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like, but I would like to draw your attention to a short story for which I managed to put down the knitting long enough to read on Friday night.

“Overtime” by Charles Stross is a Christmas story in full Lovecraftian sci-fi transition. Bob Howard works for a secret alien- and magic-monitoring branch of the government, and is stuck in the office over the holidays, putting in time as the Night Duty Officer. He expects it to be nothing more than several days of sitting around being bored, but then he receives a dire warning about an unspeakable horror from beyond the stars. Something’s coming down the chimney this Christmas, but it’s sure as heck not jolly ol’ St. Nick.

This story was a fun and fast (and seasonally-appropriate) read. Its narrator wasn’t super-well developed, mostly defaulting to “brash but reluctant action hero.” Stross apparently has an entire series of books starring this character, but in short story form, the quick attempts to give him depth beyond the action of the story didn’t really work for me. Regardless, the story moves along at a good clip, and has everything you’d expect from a Christmas tale: boring office Christmas parties, prophecies and paradoxes, action and snarky humor, and the terrifying Filler of Stockings. Overall, a fun antidote to some of the more sickly-sweet Christmas fare out there.

“Overtime” can be read on’s website, downloaded for free for the Kindle, or, if you need some seasonally-appropriate background noise while you’re wrapping presents (or knitting!), listened to in audiobook form (read by the author; slightly less than an hour long) via the podcast (link goes to mp3 file; right-click to download).

Oh, and for such a short story, it also yielded four new vocab words: transom (a window divided by a horizontal crossbar of wood or stone), apparatchiks (a derogatory term for an official in a large organization, typically political), gelignite (a high explosive consisting of a gelatinized mass of nitroglycerin with cellulose nitrate added), and samarium (a rare-earth metallic element, atomic number 62, discovered in samarskite).

What about you, readers? What have you been reading to put yourselves in the holiday spirit?

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2010 9:48 am

    Bob Howard is a riot! I’m not sure how many Bob Howard books there are, maybe three or four? I’ve only read one so far, and all I gotta say if it is a Bob Howard/Stross story, you are in for an insane goodtime. And I do mean insane!

    and it’s only 8-10 pages on the TOR site, even this e-reader/ebook hating grinch can handle that.

    • December 21, 2010 10:19 am

      Redhead – I didn’t realize until after I’d finished this that it was set in the world of Stross’s existing series, rather than being a standalone story. I do believe you on the “insane” part of things, though!

  2. December 19, 2010 10:13 am

    I had to chuckle at your opening. And also, I am so jealous of your crafty skills. I want to learn how to knit, and I keep saying that I want it, so maybe one day, I’ll actually LEARN how!

    • December 21, 2010 10:21 am

      christina – I was saying the same thing until about four years ago, I said screw it, now’s the time. I went to the craft store, bought myself one of those “Teach Yourself to Knit” kits that comes with an instruction book and needles and all the accessories, and sat over Christmas break and taught myself – and with an afghan to show for myself at the end of it all!

  3. December 19, 2010 11:01 am

    I haven’t been reading any Christmas books, but I watched Miracle on 34th Street (the old one) the other night. It was so heartwarming! Natalie Wood was so adorable! I love Christmas.

    • December 21, 2010 10:22 am

      Jenny – I’ve… never actually seen that. *ducks in shame*

  4. December 19, 2010 11:03 am

    Clicking over to read the story! Best of luck with your knitting.

    • December 21, 2010 10:22 am

      Nymeth – Thanks! Hope you had a fun time with the story!

  5. December 19, 2010 7:37 pm

    Good luck with finishing your knitting projects! I’m clicking over to read the Stross story. I have to admit I love the idea of a secret Alien and Magic monitoring organization, where do I sign up?

    Have a great holiday, Nicki!

    • December 21, 2010 10:23 am

      Gavin – I dunno, combining aliens and bureaucracy and office politics just seems like a terrible idea to me. :)

  6. December 21, 2010 10:03 am

    I can’t say any of my reading has been holiday-themed, unfortunately. But I appreciate the links to this so maybe I’ll start with this. And I will also go put on some Christmas music now… Merry, merry!

    • December 21, 2010 10:24 am

      Care – Merry, Merry, indeed! I need to put on my Christmas playlist as well…

  7. December 21, 2010 7:39 pm

    I wish I could knit! Have you tried audiobooks while you knit?

    • December 23, 2010 2:21 pm

      bermudaonion – Of course! Most of the time I’ll knit in front of the TV or a movie, but my first blanket was made mostly while listening to The Thirteenth Tale.

  8. December 27, 2010 5:54 pm

    Oh, I’ve SO been in this exact situation! A couple of years ago, I made allll my Christmas presents. There was much last-minute scrambling. I hope you got everything completed in time!

    Even though Christmas is now past, I’ll certainly check this story out. I’ve enjoyed Stross’s short fiction in the past.


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