About 10 years ago, Karl Schroeder and I wrote and rewrote and eventually published this novel: The Claus Effect.
Karl and I both are quite fond of the book. It's got homicidal elves, an Ernst-Blofeld-esque Santa Claus, chases through the frozen north and a unique if not-entirely-accurate take on post-Soviet Russia and the winding-down of the Cold War. It's also a heart-warming Christmas story of a little girl's realization that Santa Claus is not only real, but actively dangerous to the survival of the human race. Think Lemony Snicket with a grimmer outlook and more violence.
Okay. So comparing one's novel to the work of Lemony Snicket might be a bit hubristic. But it really is surprisingly good, our little book. And if you don't believe me, read what James Schellenberg wrote in Challenging Destiny (reposted here in its entirety with his kind permission):
The Claus Effect, David Nickle and Karl Schroeder, Tesseracts, 1997, 242 pp.
The Claus Effect is an expansion of earlier short story by Nickle and Schroeder. "The Toy Mill" won the Aurora Award in 1993 and is included in this book. The Claus Effect is intended to be funny and cynical at the same time, and the peculiar sense of humour may not appeal to everyone. I was actually quite wary of this book: the idea that Santa Claus is evil makes for a nice gag at short story length, but it strikes me as wildly optimistic to base an entire novel on it. Fortunately, Nickle and Schroeder add a great deal of other plot business and quite a few targets other than Santa Claus for their satire.
"The Toy Mill" takes place in 1983. A girl named Emily becomes an elf and works for Santa Claus. Santa Claus has not really been reading the letters he gets from children, and Emily draws this to his attention. Too bad, then, that Santa Claus is happiest filling the wishes of the bad kids. Emily and Mrs. Claus save the day by sneaking in a wish for the destruction of the Toy Mill.
The Claus Effect picks up in 1991. Emily is grown-up now and works in security for the local big box store, ValueLand. A second protagonist, Neil Nyman, is a soldier in the United States military, on duty in the Arctic. Neil accidentally overhears a deal between a military official and Santa Claus, a deal which pays Santa billions of dollars to launch some top-secret weapon-satellites. Meanwhile, Emily is going about her job when she is suddenly kidnapped by a vicious group of elves. Why does Santa want a Black Globe satellite for himself? And what part will Emily play in Santa's schemes?
And so the plot is off and running, with stops in Ontario's cottage country, the former East Germany, Murmansk, and in orbit around the earth. Nickle and Schroeder have a knack for outrageous action set pieces, like the one where the elves kidnapped Emily from ValueLand. In language and tone, these segments remind me of Snow Crash. The Claus Effect also puts emphasis on weaponry, in a comic way considering that the characters often don't know how to use the weapons very well. We are always told the name and capabilities of each gun, and, hilariously, this is often from Emily's point of view, whose training as a security guard at ValueLand apparently included extensive information about the makes and models of small arms.
The cast of characters in The Claus Effect is quite large, and Nickle and Schroeder often use peripheral characters as an oblique way to tell an event or joke. For example, there is a whole sequence with a rich family named Seaton in cottage country, and the Seatons are the basis for an elaborately constructed joke about a seventy-two year old septic system. Sometimes this makes the book feel a bit misshapen, when characters like the Seatons take up a large part of our attention for a chapter and never reappear. On the whole, this tactic works well, however.
The Claus Effect is a relatively short book and it does not overstay its welcome. I had low expectations for the book, frankly, due to the potentially tiresome main conceit of Santa as evil. But Nickle and Schroeder pull off some difficult tricks with this book, and it's definitely worth reading.
Don't believe Schellenberg? Read Christian Sauve's online review here. Or check out SF Chronicle Reviewer Don Dammassa's year's best fantasy for 1998 roundup here. Or ,if your knowledge of French is up to the challenge, this one from Solaris magazine. Finally: how about these blurbs, devoid of context, but from other places not associated with Challenging Destiny?
best first fantasy novel of 1998"
--Science Fiction Chronicle
Burton could make a great movie of this. But don't wait for the
movie--buy the book!"
parents that expose their children to this little bit of nastiness
should be put away at once."
wonder why St. Nick delivered the wrong gifts to you year after year?
Because, according to this hilarious hatchet-job, he's a crazed
misanthrope who couldn't care less. Say it ain't so!"
--The Montreal Gazette
We think it's worth a look. And to prove our point, here is a free look at the one part of the book Schellenberg didn't like - ostensibly, the worst part, against which all the other bits will shine like bright pennies: the elaborately-constructed joke about the septic system:
It's free to look at but not to reproduce. But you can get the whole book from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing,Amazon.com, Chapters-Indigo and a bunch of other places. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is what Karl Schroeder and I should very much like you to do. So please - enjoy the chapter, open your wallets, and don't ask too many questions...