Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, The Best Earth Bar That Never Was

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

Why Write a Book About a Space Bar

Callahan's Place

Remember high school? Yea, I know, most of us try to forget. Back then homeroom was typically that least eventful part of the educational day. But I was lucky. My homeroom was also the classroom for the schools’ Science Fiction Lit. teacher. I sat in the back…right next to his bookshelf, and from there I heard a book literally call my name:Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Now, when your last name happens to be Callahan and you love science fiction YOU WILL read that book.

Callahan'sCallahan’s is a saloon “somewhere in Long Island” that is patronized by alien cyborgs, vampires, talking dogs, hippie musicians, and time travelers. The first book is basically a collection of short stories that originally appeared in Analog Magazine. They’re pretty good stories too. Spider Robinson has a wry sense of humor and a great insight into human nature. He wrote several sequels such as Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan’ Lady which were popular from the late 1970s to late 1980s. I read them all. I read them all twice.

Another roundAfter I ran out of Callahan’s books I started looking around for other science fiction bar tales, but sadly, few were to be found. While in Singapore in 1989 (a port of call, I was in the US Navy) I found a book called Another Round At The Spaceport Bar which turned out be an anthology of short stories by such authors as Robert A. Heinlein. It was good…but not good enough. The stories had no connection to one another as they did in Spider Robinson’s work.

Years went by, and in the back of my mind, I was still looking for a book that hadn’t been written yet. Something with a lot of humor, camaraderie and a smattering of space adventure. But nobody seemed to be writing that kind of stuff anymore. Then I started thinking about all the times I’d gotten a little tipsy in “con-suites.” You know, those hospitality rooms that can be found on the upper floor of a hotel that’s hosting a science fiction convention? Yea, con-suites, where you meet SF fans from all over the country and can have a great chat about which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars and the like. Folks are often in costume at a con, dressed as some space adventurer or another, and I got to thinking what if they really WERE space adventurers having drinks and swapping stories?

That’s when The Screaming Eagle started to take shape in my mind. A bar on a distant planet where space adventurers of all stripes come to have a brew and tell tales.

My hat’s off to Spider Robinson and all the good science fiction writers who inspired me along the way. And thanks to all my readers, an author is nothing without an audience.