Found at Last: 200 Years to Christmas

Found at Last: 200 Years to Christmas

Note: This post was originally published on my Lucy Varna blog.

The primary joy of my pre-teen and teenaged years was reading, and I occupied myself in that way wherever I could find a book. If we visited family and friends and I brought no books with me (a rarity, I promise), I picked one off of their shelves and read it while my brother and sister played with cousins and family friends.

I spent a lot of time that way.

My grandparents’ houses were lovely treasure troves of stories waiting to be read. My maternal grandfather attended the University of Georgia during the Great Depression (I haven’t been able to pinpoint exact dates yet) and was later a surveyor and a lay preacher. His bookcase now sits in my father’s garage-turned-studio. At least some of PawPaw’s books, the Biblical commentary (yes, I read some of those), ended up with one of my uncles. No idea where the rest went.

My paternal grandmother loved Mysteries, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romances, and what we would now call literature. (I don’t think she viewed literature in the same way more modern readers do.) It was at her house that I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and a host of other SF&F writers from the ’40s through the ’60s. When Nanny died nearly twenty-five years ago, her children divided her books, photos, and other miscellanea between themselves, including her own attempts at writing fiction. Man, I’d love to have copies.

My kind-hearted father rescued a single book for me, one that I don’t recall reading. It’s a little too fragile to read now, but I treasure it for the memories it represents. Me and Nanny reading together or, just as fun, watching B movies on her tiny television. Long summer nights tucked away in her spare bedroom, listening to traffic swishing by on the highway, book in hand. 

I don’t remember all the books I read at her house. There were just so many, but some stood out and actually sank into my permanent memory, like Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and some stories published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. (In particular, I remember one about a lost knitting needle and another about the heel of a shoe. Guess how both of those items were used?) 

Anywho, one story has nagged at me for decades now, of a generational ship stuck in the middle of its voyage where the inhabitants swung from one faddish behavior set to another, mostly, it seemed, out of sheer boredom. I couldn’t remember the title no matter how hard I tried (a failing, true; I tend to remember concepts, not names). I’ve spent a lot of time searching for this story and think I’ve finally found it.

Now, my son and I are huge movie watchers. We decided to rewatch the Matrix trilogy a couple of nights ago. I couldn’t remember when the films were released, so I went online and ended up spending an hour reading about the philosophical underpinnings of the Matrix universe. I eventually landed on discussions of the cyberpunk genre, and from there, stumbled onto a couple of articles about generational ships.

And bingo. One of the articles listed J.T. McIntosh’s novella 200 Years to Christmas, and the description rang a pretty hard bell. It was published in 1961 in the same volume as Charles L. Fontenay’s Rebels of the Red Planet. (Double novels. Those were the days.) Don’t remember reading that one at all (though I’m sure I did), but that’s not surprising. I read a lot of books between the ages of ten and fifteen, more than I’ll ever remember the details of. 

Why this particular story stuck in my head is a complete mystery, one I hope I can solve when I re-read it, thirty-odd years after the first time it served as part of an afternoon’s entertainment.

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