With Christmas a day away, it’s a perfect time to take another look at John C. Wright’s THE BOOK OF FEASTS & SEASONS, a collection of 10 holiday-inspired science fiction stories. This is not your average cup of Christmas tea, as a look at the story titles alone will tell you. Over the course of the year, from January to December, the science fiction grandmaster takes his inspiration from ten different holidays and explores their meanings in a series of stories of marvelous imagination. The book begins with New Year’s Day and “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey.” The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin is represented by “A Random World of Delta Capricorni Aa, Called Scheddi”, while “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” represents the Feast of Pentecost. The calendar, and the anthology, culminate on Christmas Eve with “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”.
The following excerpt is from “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”, acclaimed by our editor, Vox Day, as a serious contender for the best thing that Mr. Wright has ever written.
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The animals gathered, one by one, outside the final city of Man, furtive, curious, and afraid.
All was dark. In the west was a blood-red sunset, and in the east a blood-red moonrise of a waning moon. No lamps shined in the towers and minarets, and all the widows of the palaces, mansions, and fanes were empty as the eyes of skulls.
All about the walls of the city were the fields and houses that were empty and still, and all the gates and doors lay open.
Above the fortresses and barracks, black pillars upheld statues of golden eagles, beaks open, unmoving and still. Above the coliseum and circus, where athletes strove and acrobats danced and slaves fought and criminals were fed alive to wild beasts for the diversion of the crowds, and the noise of screams and cries rose up like incense toward heaven, statues of heroes and demigods stood on white pillars, glaring blindly down.
Within other walls were gardens whose trees were naked in the wind, and the silence was broken only by the rustle of the carpet of fallen leaves wallowing along the marble paths and pleasances.
Above the boulevards and paved squares where merchants once bought and sold ivory and incense and purple and gold, or costly fabrics of silks from the east, or ambergris from the seas beyond the Fortunate Isles, and auction houses adorned and painted stood where singing birds and dancing girls were sold to the highest bidder or given to the haughtiest peer. And here were gambling houses where princes and nobles once used gems as counters for cities and walled towns, and the fate of nations might depend upon the turn of a card. And there were pleasure houses where harlots plied their trade, and houses of healing where physicians explained which venereal disease had no cures and arranged for painless suicides, and houses of morticians where disease-raddled bodies were burnt in private, without any ceremony that might attract attention and be bad for business.
And higher on the high hill in the center of the city were the libraries of the learned and the palaces of the emperors adored as gods. But no history was read in the halls of learning and no laws were debated in the halls of power.
Not far outside the city was a mountain that had been cut in two, crown to root, by some great supernatural force. On the slopes of the dark mountain, in a dell overgrown and wild, two dark creatures met, peering cautiously toward the empty city.
A black wolf addressed a black raven sitting in a thorn-bush. “What is the news, eater of carrion? Did you fly over the city and spy out where the corpses are?”
The black raven shrugged indifferently. “I thought it unwise to intrude. What of you, bold corsair against the sheepfolds of men? Man has always feared your kind. Did you not creep into the unwatched and unguarded gates? Surely you were not afraid!”
The wolf was embarrassed and turned away. “Surely I am not a fool,” he growled.
“Who, then, will go into the city?” asked the raven.
“Long ago, Man seduced our cousin the Hound to serve him, and to betray us. The Sons of the Hound are friends of Man, and can pass into the city to discover what has become of Adam’s sons and Enoch’s grandsons. I smell one of my cousins nearby. If Man is truly vanished from the bosom of the Earth, then the old covenant is broken and he and I may speak.”
The raven with a croak and a flutter of wings rose into the air. “Surely Hound will know.”
But it proved not so. When Raven and Wolf came to where Hound and Horse and the slow and solemn Bull were all exchanging whispered eulogies and reminiscences, and put their question to him, the Hound shrugged philosophically. “I cannot tell you what has become of Man, nor what these great lightning-flares and thunders and voices mean. All I can say is that I no longer smell his scent on the air, nor smell the smoke of his bright servant, fire. For the first time since the hour when the prince of the air, Prometheus, taught Cain how to build a sacrificial fire, and taught Tubalcain how to light a forge, there has been the smell of smoke or smokestack somewhere in the world, be it campfire or holocaust or steel mills roaring with glorious flame. Now there is no sign of fire anywhere the rumor of the eight winds carries to me.”
The wolf said, “You are friendly to Man. Go there! If he should still be alive, he will pet and fondle you, and feed you soup bones and slivers of meat.”
The hound shook his shaggy head. “It would be disobedience. I cannot go where Man forbids me go.”
Wolf snarled, “And if he is vanished forever? How long will you obey his NO DOGS ALLOWED signs?”
Hound said, “If my master has gone forever, then will I obey his word forever, and never will I enter the city. The First Hound was the first beast ever to be given a name by Adam, the First Man, and that honor we have never forgotten.”
A sharp laugh came from the bushes nearby. It was Fox, with his bright, cunning eyes and his black fur. “And for your loyalty, yours was the first tribe expelled from Eden with him, O Hound!”
“He needed the company,” said Hound simply.
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As you will have noticed from the text sample, THE BOOK OF FEASTS & SEASONS is not the traditional light-hearted seasonal fare, but is as deep and as dark, as full of grief and joy, as the true story of St. Nicholas, Wonderworker, Defender of Orthodoxy, Holy Hierarch, and Bishop of Myra, himself. It is available from Castalia House as well as on Amazon.