Review: Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon

Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s stories are, in the right corners of the SF world, regarded as almost legendary.  They have a particularly devoted cult following that’s the right kind of interesting to attract my attention.  How many series of short stories result in a USENET group designed not to discuss the stories, but to mimic their environment?

As stories go, they are very much of their time – 1970’s SF magazine shorts that catch the feeling of the era and entertain.  They lean more heavily on the genre trappings of fantasy than SF, but they are about reflecting human values into changing times which may be SF’s definition.  They also reflect 70’s SF’s love of wordplay and bad puns.  This is clearly the same era that created The Flying Sorcerers.  I mention that not to run down Callahan’s or The Flying Sorcerers – which I see is available for the Kindle, so watch this space – but if you’re allergic to puns, Callahan’s will make you swell up like a balloon.

As far as the writing goes, the stories all amble along with enough drive to keep the reader interested but not so much urgency that Robinson misses a chance to talk about a shaggy dog.  The tone captures the feel of telling stories at a bar pretty well.  As for characters, the only real character is the bar itself.  There are folks running around with personalities and histories, but they’re all a little more decent than real people are, so I don’t feel like I could meet them.  The bar itself is a semi-magical force for compassion, and I think of the patrons as facets of that force more than characters.

Robinson doesn’t quite say that about his fictional bar, staff, and patrons, but he’s also clear that there’s more to the place than meets the eye.  Callahan’s is unrealistic in the way a dialogue in great noir novel is unrealistic; it becomes iconic.  I can’t imagine really walking into Callahan’s (any posts you find from me in alt.callahans not withstanding), but it’s fun to read about it and surprisingly reassuring that it has acquired such a following.

Strongly recommended, if you can cope with the puns.

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