Reed (Mumbo Jumbo, The Last Days of Louisiana Red), with his general cultural impiety, has previously shown himself to be a superb agent provocateur, the black writer who almost always manages to offend black and white readers in equal measure. And here again everything is fair game to Reed: Reagan-ish policies; Rastafarians; the Hell-tormented ghosts of Truman, Eisenhower, Rockefeller; America as a manifestation of two-year-old behavior. (""Two-year-olds are what the id would look like if the id could ride a tricycle."") His futuristic premise: the current national mood of Reagan-omic ungenerosity has gotten truly out of hand. Even the celebration of Christmas has been centralized and transformed: a single commercial Santa is established, tied in to a military-industrial complex of maniac proportions. There is a counter-trend, however: the cultish followers of St. Nicholas--who see Nicholas as a rival Christ, call themselves Nicolaites, and are led by Boy Bishop and his Rastaman lieutenant Black Peter. The plot from then on comes in pasty gobbets: Santa, in 1990, unexpectedly goes against his bosses to endorse a commerce-free Christmas; the idea is seconded by the otherwise Reaganite President at the time; and both of them are then muzzled by the military-industrial baddies, with only the wacko Nicolaites enduring. Still, despite all the barbs, this short novel is too slight and messy to deliver much real sting. And though it's always fun to have another Reed novel (Flight to Canada, 1976, was the last), this time the effect is more mudpie than machete.