Monday, October 1, 2012

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson

It's difficult to believe that I've never posted any reviews of Spider Robinson's work on this blog before now. I guess it's partially because most of his works that I read were first published in the 70s or 80s. I had an urge the other day, when I was headed to the mountains for some R&R, to take along a couple of Spiders' short story collections.

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is his first collection of the Callahan's stories, which were for the most part published in Analog magazine when Ben Bova was editor. They're not always exactly science fiction (which caused some complaints from diehard Analog readers), but they're nearly  always just exactly Spider Robinson, at his most amusing.

Callahan's is a bar, run by Mike Callahan, where those who need its solace the most are somehow drawn in, as if by some gravitic force. All drinks are exactly 50 cents, but if you put a dollar in the box on top of the bar, you are encouraged to utter a toast, and hurl your glass into the fireplace - which is often cathartic or leads to a story. The patrons of the bar are almost supernaturally supportive, and many hearts get healed there.

The opening story, The Guy with the Eyes, steals a page from Heinlein, one of Robinson's greatest heroes, in that the being who is uttering a toast, Michael (another similarity to RAH) Finn, is an advance scout for a race of powerful, one might say "evil" galactic overlords (Valentine Michael Smith suspects he is a spy for the Old Ones of Mars in Stranger for a Strange Land, sent to determine whether Earth needs to be destroyed like the Fifth Planet once was), who are ready to turn Earth into their own meat locker.

If you don't like puns, I'd suggest you find your entertainment elsewhere, however. The first night of the week at Callahan's is Punday, not Monday, and there is enormous competition to come up with the worst stinker. Tuesday is Tall Tales night, and you'll find only the shaggiest of dogs at Callahan's.

Robinson, like his hero RAH, anticipates a later invention in one of his stories (probably more than that, but this one I noticed on most recent reading) - music videos. This was long before MTV, but in The Law of the Conservation of Pain, a time traveler from the future who is trying to avert the suicide of a Janis Joplin-like singer brings back a globe that projects the music and accompanying video, showing the Callahan's regulars why she must be saved. We are living in the future I used to read about.

The tag-line of that story borrows once again from Heinlein. "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased." Robinson postulates that there's a certain amount of pain in the universe, and it can't be thwarted, it will just turn up somewhere else, in some other form. However, like matter and energy, pain can be converted to joy.

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