To begin with, Oliver Johnson's classic Lightbringer Trilogy, recently re-released by Gollancz as ebooks. For the virtual stocking, then:
Seriously, how many fantasy epics do you know of that adhere to Aristotle's unity of time? Next up, how about James Wallis's justly award-winning parlour game meets RPG, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen?
It's hard to describe, but here's the official version:
"Can you keep up with Baron Munchausen's extraordinary adventures as he travels to the Moon and the Sun, rides cannon-balls, defeats armies single-handed, meets the gods, and escapes from bandits on half a horse? The stories of the legendary nobleman come to life as players battle to outdo each other's fantastic feats and amazing accomplishments. It's a role-playing story-telling game of outrageous originality and swashbuckling exaggeration, stretching the bounds of truth until they twang. How is this possible? If Baron Munchausen is involved, anything is possible. The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen contains full rules, more than two hundred adventures ready to be played, mechanics that replace dice and pencils with money and fine wine, and many insults against the inhabitants of various nations, but principally the French. This expanded edition is a facsimile of a suppressed volume originally published in 1808. It contains additional rules for playing in an Arabian style and a complete supplementary game, 'My Uncle the Baron', designed for children, the inbred, and those who are very drunk."Moving on, those of a more serious disposition may prefer the writings of Tim Harford. All of his books are elegant, entertaining and eludicatory, but for my money none is better than The Undercover Economist. It's that rare animal, the informative work that actually makes you feel smarter, not dumber:
Hang on now, Christmas is for children, right? What gift would I suggest for them? Well, if they're older kids then there's no reason why they wouldn't eagerly devour The Undercover Economist or play the alcohol-free variants of Baron Munchausen. But for the younger ones, 6-8 years or so, what about a subscription to The Phoenix comic, which includes the Dirk Lloyd strip by our very own Jamie Thomson?
I also highly recommend the Dark Lord audiobooks, read with spellbinding brilliance (and barely audible flatulence) by Jamie himself - but I can't find the links to those - so if anyone knows where they can be got, please leave that info in the comments below!
As another gift for the little 'uns, take a gander at Martin McKenna's very original picture book The Octopuppy:
"Edgar wanted a dog. Instead, he got an octopus named Jarvis. Jarvis is brilliant and does his best to act like the dog Edgar wants, but nothing he does is good enough to please Edgar. Ultimately, Edgar recognizes that while Jarvis might not be the dog he wanted, he is special in his own endearing way."Talking of Martin, middle-graders, teens and adults alike should enjoy the Mirabilis graphic novels that I created with him (on covers) and Leo Hartas (on interior art). You know the premise by now:
"A mysterious green comet grows bigger in the sky. In the comet’s glow, miracles multiply like orchids under a tropical sun. Myth, magic and marvels are in the very air. Everything you can possibly imagine is now part of everyday life."And the first book, Winter, is so perfect a fit for the festive season that I know of at least one person who read it on the night train out of Moscow on Christmas Eve! So maybe you'll forgive this lapse into self-promotion:
Since Mirabilis is a creative group effort, Leo deserves to have a place on this list all his own - so let me steer you towards his website, where you can contact him to buy original artwork that will make you the envy of fantasy geeks everywhere. As well as his maps for Fighting Fantasy, Leo has lately been colouring his illustrations for my first ever gamebook, Crypt of the Vampire - and doing a bang-up job of it, too, as you can see from the image at the head of this post.
Christmas is also a time for telling scary stories. Not all of John Whitbourn's unforgettable Binscombe Tales are about ghosts, or even strictly fit into the category of horror, but all are weird and wonderful, and manage to be both icily disturbing and warmly funny:
Having started on the precipitous slope of cronyism, I may as well fling myself right over into the chasm of nepotism by mentioning my wife, Roz Morris's, latest novel Lifeform Three. This is literary SF in the tradition of Bradbury and Ballard, perhaps with a dash of Pixar and Pinocchio. In a future where mankind have lost their souls to commercialism, an artificial "bod", built only to serve, starts to question his place in the universe as a result of forging a relationship with a quite unlikely pet.
Anything else? Oh yes -- happy Thanksgiving!