Orson Scott Card has long since earned his place among the true masters of science fiction with novels like Ender's Game, Pastwatch, the Homecoming series, and his alternate history/fantasy Tales of Alvin Maker. His Ender universe has been expanding for some time now, and this year he dives back into the time period of the first novel for a short Christmas tale, A War of Gifts.
In the original Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin was recruited, along with hundreds of the most brilliant children on Earth, to train in an orbital battle school for the day when the human race would have to repel an invasion from an alien race they only barely defeated once before. In A War of Gifts, the camera moves from Ender to another student at the school, Zeck Morgan. A fundamentalist Christian, Zeck refuses to participate in the wargames at the school, and when a pair of Dutch students participate in a Sinterklaas Day celebration (St. Nicholas' Day, on Dec. 6), he issues a complaint about their being able to express their religion while others are supressed.
The other kids don't take kindly to Zeck's reaction, however, and the children of Battle School begin a mini-mutiny, trying to find small ways to celebrate Christmas despite the protestations of the adults running the show. In the end, Zeck has to face Ender to discover a truth hidden from everyone, even himself.
This story fits neatly between the pages of Ender's Game and makes for a highly unique Christmas tale. Most Christmas stores these days are more secular in nature -- about Santa and Frosty and the like -- and I really have no problem with that. those Christmas stories that do incorporate the spiritual aspects of the holiday deal with Jesus's birth (lest we forget that's the whole point) or about angels coming to Earth to work some Christmas miracle for a stingy curmudgeon or some lonely woman who just wants a boyfriend for Christmas. (I'm pretty sure the latter is a Lifetime movie.) A War of Gifts is different in that it's neither about the secular aspects or the faith-based aspects, but instead is more about religion itself -- the conflict between different faiths and different denominations is the crux of the story, as an outward projection of Zeck's internal struggles. For such a slim volume, it's a great character study, and yet another example of how Card can write children remarkably well, even when the children are super-geniuses.
I wouldn't recommend the book if you haven't read Ender's Game, as many of the subtleties will be lost. (There's an early chapter, for example, featuring Ender's older brother that really has nothing to do with the plot of A War of Gifts, but is highly telling if you've read the other books in the series.) If you are a fan of Card, though, this is a very strong Christmas tale definitely belongs on your bookshelf. Don't worry. At 128 pages, it won't take up much room.