Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #182: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson

It’s not often you read a book with its own video game spin-off. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is a peculiar little book; reading a title like that, and chapter titles referencing so-called “time travelers,” I wouldn’t blame you for expecting the author to go heavier on the science fiction than he does. Two aliens do decide to pop into Callahan’s, but the others don’t see this as anything out of the ordinary. They could be agents for the MIB, and Spider Robinson could be an inspired choice as screenwriter for MIB 4, if they decide to continue the series; the studios would never go for it, since I’d imagine it being a lot like The Man From Earth, AKA the anti-blockbuster.

Hollywood doesn’t do meditative and existential with a side-dish heaped full of puns; Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the furthest towards that end of the spectrum it’s liable to get, and that failed (commercially, that is; personally, I adore it), so they’re not exactly bound to give it another go anytime soon. Perhaps a show; then again, they tried that with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, also by Douglas Adams, and couldn’t quite nail down the feel of it. I guess I’d settle for a Robinson-scripted episode of Dr. Who; read the chapter wherein the novel’s second alien appears and try to tell me he wouldn’t do a masterfully at contending with the various quandaries (moral, existential, what have you) The Doctor must somehow find suitable answers for.

No, read the entirety of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and try to tell me you don’t pine for a place like this, with its weekly Punday Night on Tuesdays (why he didn’t go the extra mile and have it be on Sundays [Sunday/Punday], I’m not sure), its camaraderie and support structure, its colorful visitors and happenings, et cetera. (Sounds an awful lot like Pajiba, come to think of it.) Both aliens view Callahan’s as sort of a bastion of hope for humanity, a place pleasantly at odds with the rest of the world they both have it in their power to destroy, in one way or another. One of the characters likens it to a local commune run by cultists, a comparison I feel isn’t too far off; it’s akin to that, but sans the religious aspect. Each is populated by people looking merely to belong; the lost and alone come together to find themselves and one another.

Whatever you are, there’s a place for you at Callahan’s; many of its patrons, and the ones who return annually for the New Year’s festivities, don’t even drink, because it’s no more about alcohol than a cult is about religion. I’m certain there are a fanatical few insane enough to buy into such crackpot theories, but I really do believe that, deep down, it all comes back to that search for belonging. If that means drinking the Kool Aid (or, in this case, alcohol), then so be it; it doesn’t make the people they talk about living on the commune delusional cultists, and it doesn’t make the people in Callahan’s drunks. At least that’s how they would see it; some of them balk at being compared to the members of that commune, but I’m sure that if one of said members were to walk through those doors, they’d accept him or her without question and without hesitation because they’re able to see past the exterior, as it can be deceiving.

Take, for instance, the first of those two aliens; the way Robinson writes him, you can’t help but see him the way they do, as one of theirs. Had the topic of his being an alien never been broached, I never would’ve guessed it, and this isn’t because Robinson was lazy, not making him “alien enough,” but rather I read it as him saying to the reader that there doesn’t exist a wedge that cannot be budged if the people on both sides work together to remove it, that we are all a lot more alike than you’d think once we stop telling ourselves how different we are, for whatever reason. This is a lesson many today are still learning, andCallahan’s Crosstime Saloon does as good a job as any book at teaching it. Plus, you know, there are puns, and what humorless sod doesn’t love some of those?

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Shaman’s CBR#5 review #01: Variable star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

It’s hard to review a book and do it justice when you’ve read a bad translation of it. It was such a bad translation that half the time I didn’t know what was going on. I kept trying to translate it back to English so that it would make sense. It’s even harder to know which parts of it were bad because of the translator and which because of the author.

Variable star is a science fiction book by Spider Robinson, who wrote it based on notes by the late Robert A. Heinlein. Joel, a struggling musician, is crazy about Jinny. She wants to marry him, but he can’t bring himself to propose to her before he can earn a good enough living to start a family. Jinny, in her desperation, reveals that she’s secretly the granddaughter of the richest, most powerful man in the universe, and brings Joel to grandad’s hideaway to meet him. Grandad wants Joel to marry Jinny and take over the family business, a prospect that makes Joel panic, reconsider his feelings for Jinny and finally board a starship carrying 500 humans on their way to colonise a newly discovered planet.

It was an amusing enough book at times, easy to read (if it weren’t for the translation issues), even captivating enough occasionally to keep me reading. However I felt that the suspense was uneven throughout the book. The middle sags, with some isolated incidents that don’t seem to have anything to do with the story in general. The book’s redeeming feature is its last fifty pages, where action suddenly picks up and things get interesting. My only complaint about an otherwise satisfying ending is…

 

*SPOILERS*

Jinny suddenly turning into an evil bitch, where at the start of the novel her only crime was lying about being poor to make sure Joel loved her for who she was and not for her money. Understandable behaviour, no? Then Evelyn’s significance: Joel spends little, if any, time thinking about her, and when he does think about her it is mostly as the little girl that helped him escape. But now, within two minutes of seeing her, he’s fallen in love with the barely-adult Evelyn who suddenly appears before him? I had difficulty buying that. It was mildly disturbing.

*END OF SPOILERS*

 

I can’t help feeling that the book would have benefited from cutting out some of the middle and extending the last part instead. Space travel is an exciting thematic area to explore, and I wish that Robinson would have taken more time to do that. I haven’t read any books by Heinlein, so I can’t tell if Robinson did him justice. All in all, an average book that I would recommend to a Heinlein or Robinson fan, or someone who wants a quick read (despite it being 350 pages long).