So, apparently, I’m not the only guy who ever wrote a space bar book.
Okay, I’m of course kidding. I read Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon back in high school (In fact, I’m holding the high school edition). It was extremely popular back in its day and, reportedly, there were several instances of fans driving around New England looking for a bar that didn’t exist. It’s a fun read and every couple of years still I dust it off and read a story or two just for the pleasure of it.
I say “story or two” because the book is not a novel. Rather, it’s a series of science fiction short stories that all take place in a mythical bar in Suffolk County, Long Island (NOT upstate New York!!). called Callahan’s Place (No idea why Robinson chose my family name here). This is owing to the fact that Robinson at first published them one at a time in Science Fiction Analog magazine. The time of these stories is the present, which at time of publication was 1977. Therefore, the science fiction elements have a sort of “Men In Black” flavor. Aliens live among us, as well as time travelers, vampires, recovering alcoholics, lost drug addicts, and an array of other quirky characters that populate the bar.
And characters are the important thing because this is not a book about universe changing events or galactic empires. No, Robinson instead gives us a series of intimate tales with a focus on human relations over science fiction wizardry. There’s Fast Eddy the piano player with the thick New York accent, Doctor Webster who leads all the pun contests, Ralph Von Wau Wau a mutant talking dog, and a host of others. All are very relatable people and set the sene for the events that follow.
All the stories are all told from the point of view of folk musician Jake Stonebender, who lost his wife and child in a car accident that he blames himself for. He came to Callahan”s Place to forget his troubles, but soon found something more. One of the quips of the book is “Callahan”s Law” which states that “shared pain is diminished while shared joy is increased.” And through the scientific application of this law, most of the plots are resolved.
Frankly, I always wondered why nobody made a TV show out of this book. It all takes place on one set (the bar) and would require little in the way of special effects. However, upon reflection, there is probably a limit to how much milk you can get out of this particular cow. Robinson wrote a host of other Callahan”s books, each or (in my opinion) of diminishing quality so perhaps such a show would only last a season (but what a cool season that would be!).
I must admit that Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon continues to be one of my influences and it is no coincidence that my first book, Tales of The Screaming Eagle, is a science fiction story set in a bar. Did I bring my own perspective into that work? Of course! Spider Robinson never served in the military, while I am a 20-year veteran. Therefore it is no surprise that my book concerns space veterans and their trials and triumphs. I also set my story on a distant colony world hundreds of years in the future because I really enjoy space opera and wanted to dive into that genera head first.
In the end, I departed from Robinson to tell my own story, but I still, owe a debt of inspiration to Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and highly recommend it as a most enjoyable read.
By Clayton J. Callahan