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So I was having a discussion with my grandson, actually playing a game with him over the phone, and realized I needed a bar. That is, I needed a bar as one of the scenes for our game. Author Spider Robinson (apparently his given first name is a jealously guarded secret) wrote a collection of short stories in the late 1970s called Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. I remembered reading it when it was first published and I remembered liking it, but that’s all. I had long since gotten rid of my original copy, so I bought the digital version.
After reading the first couple of short stories, I not only realized I had remembered this collection wrong, but found it was totally unsuitable for what I had in mind for the game with my grandson. I immediately set to work at creating my own “fantastical” saloon which, as of today, I also decided to incorporate in a short story I’ve just plotted out.
But that’s neither here nor there for this review.
“Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon,” the fictional establishment, is a little known bar (to the rest of the world) off of U.S. 40 near Long Island, New York. It has its “regular” regulars, but it also attracts an extraterrestrial or two, a couple of time travelers, and a very long lived, but not immortal person.
The premise is that people come in with problems and Mike Callahan and the various regulars make them feel at home (sometimes literally). Through a series of conversations (for the most part) the folks at Callahan’s help them resolve their problems. The idea is “problems kept to yourself are magnified, and problems shared are diminished.”
I generally like character-driven stories, but Robinson’s stories are CHARACTER-driven. The environment wasn’t nearly as fantastical as the title indicated and my faulty memory suggested. As far as speculative fiction goes, the short stories weren’t much more than a series of episodes from the TV sitcom Cheers (I should say that I’ve never seen an episode, but that’s how I imagine it).
I blew through the book as fast as I could because, not being what I expected, what I found really isn’t what I’d choose to read today. Written in the late ’70s, the jokes and the cultural references were terribly dated. Robinson apparently took a very dim view of Christians and Vietnam vets based on his narratives, which didn’t exactly endear him to me. Also, for being (apparently) a 1970s liberal, there was only one story where a woman actually entered Callahan’s.
I hadn’t realized it in the other tales until I started reading the story in question. Callahan’s was a male-only bar, both regulars and guests, until she showed up. After she left, no other women appeared. There was not so much as a cocktail waitresses in the background. Robinson did allow a transvestite to patronize the joint, though.
I checked on the writer’s background and he’s musical, which showed up in a number of stories. Apparently, he also liked bad puns and word play, most of which was lost on me. Frankly, while the book was originally well received, it hasn’t stood up to the test of time. I can’t call “Callahan’s” a classic in any sense. It’s just too old and dated.
Yes, Robinson is one of those award-winning writers, so I suppose I could be accused of not paying proper respect and so forth, but as the old time baseball umpires used to say, “I calls ’em as I sees ’em.”
I love nostalgia and have been known to give a “mercy point” or two in my reviews to such books, but in this case, even that couldn’t save “Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon” from a solid three stars on Amazon.