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Callahan’s Con – Writer’s Con

This is microniche fiction. It appeals to Spider Robinson’s fans – the fans of the previous short stories and short novels in the serialization of the fictional world of Callahan’s Cross-Time Saloon, and the fans of the mildly colourful writer himself.

The original short story had the young Jake Stonebender, depressed, widowed, wandering into a bar in the Greater New York area to drown his sorrows. The bartender is a time traveller from the future and bar is populated by a variety of aliens and odd beings, and a bunch of dysfunctional people who turn out to be superior human beings. In short, it’s a permanent science fiction fan convention, with a high proportion of Robinson’s fans.

Over time, Callahan and his partner Lady Sally the madam of a magical brothel, have disappeared, leaving Jake as the owner of the bar and leader of the regulars. Some years ago they moved en mass to the Florida Keys. Over time, the stories have become formulaic, full of references back to early novels and full of in jokes for Robinson’s fans. For his loyal fans, undoubtedly Robinson can do no wrong but for anyone not invested in the lore of the stories and SF fandom, they have become a waste of time.

Robinson presents himself as a writer in the tradition of Heinlein, which is partially correct. He isn’t within the fascist tradition of “Starship Troopers” or the survivalist tradition of “Farnham’s Freehold” or the libertarian tradition of “The Moon is Harsh Mistress”. He does fit into the magical mystery tour tradition of “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the other novels of Heinlein’s hippie epiphany, and the tradition of being outspoken and contrarian, and something of a gnostic oracle.

He sounds like a sincere guy, and his stories have a heavy emphasis on friendship, empathy, tolerance and self-confidence. They have probably provided emotional support to thousands of adolescent science fiction fans around their fascination with science and big ideas, and their pain at being labelled nerds by other adolescents. However, he seems to have become confident of his place in the fan world, comfortable with his authorial persona, and perhaps a bit lazy. His writing remains sloppy and melodramatic.

About Brave Kelso

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Good review of Robinson’s latest Callahan novel!

    I wouldn’t call Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” fascist, though – it is more “militarist” or “elitist”. Few novels in Heinlein’s “future history” would qualify for the fascist tag, except maybe the future theocracy of “Revolt in 2100″.

  • Tony Dalmyn

    Starship Troopers glorified military culture and incidentally showed how military training creates strong social forces within the military. There was the idea that full citizenship was denied to anyone who had not been the military which made it a military elitist society, but I thought there were further elements that suggested a fascist state – the emphasis on the corporate good of the state, a disrespect for dissent. I wondered if Heinlein wasn’t fooling around to see how attractive he could make that kind of society sound to readers.