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The Crazy Years: Reflections of a Science Fiction Original
Spider Robinson
BenBella Books, 288 pages

The Crazy Years
Spider Robinson
In 1973, Spider Robinson moved to Nova Scotia, where he met and married Jeanne Robinson, a choreographer/dancer, and founder of Halifax's modern dance company, Nova Dance Theatre. Both Robinsons collaborated on the multiple award-winning Stardance. Since he began writing professionally in 1972, he has won 3 Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the E.E. ("Doc") Smith Memorial Award (Skylark), the Pat Terry Memorial Award for Humorous Science Fiction, and Locus Awards for Best Novella and Best Critic. The Robinsons now live in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Spider Robinson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: By Any Other Name
SF Site Review: Very Bad Deaths
SF Site Review: Callahan's Con
SF Site Review: The Free Lunch
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

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From 1996 until 2004, Spider Robinson, born an American but (eventually) a citizen of his adopted Canadian home, wrote editorials for The Globe and Mail; the series was called The Crazy Years, taking it's name from Robert A. Heinlein's name for our era in his famous future history timeline. Rarely has a science fiction writer been afforded such a regular opportunity to hold forth on issues of importance and Robinson took great advantage of it during his tenure. With apparently almost free reign when it came to the topic of each essay, they range from the evils of the drug war to loving paeans to the underappreciated wonders of his favourite country. With the 2004 publication of The Crazy Years, readers from anywhere can enjoy these thought-provoking essays.

Always opinionated, he is also frequently hilarious in his skewering of his least favourite aspects of modern society. In "The Mahooha Filter," Robinson states:

"I routinely ignore: Anyone who uses the word "Jehovah."

This one is not a value judgement; it's simply beyond my control. Speak to me of Jehovah, and with the best will in the world, my eyes glaze over. If this be the reflex that will send me to Hell, blame He who hardwired it into me."

His list of the ignorable goes on to include critics who haven't published in their field, newscasters, anti-smoking zealots (the topic of several essays in the collection), psychic friends, and "any conspiracy theory involving more than three living principals or more than a hundred dollars."

He is not a reactionary writer however -- it is clear that every essay has a lot of thought put into it, far more than can be boiled down into a few hundred words. Robinson frequently revisits especially worthy topics such as the hectic and sometimes misdirected pace of technological development.

In "'His bow-tie is really a camera...,' or The Future Is Not Listening," from March 2000, he laments the ridiculous, Internet-ready devices that futurists were then touting (and he laments futurists in general in "'The worm on the skyhook'"). On the other hand, in "Voluntary Poverty Threatens Real Poor People" he stresses the importance of staying the course until we can realize the benefits of nanotechnology. For another example of revisiting old topics, see my discussion of his essay "If You Take It ... We Can't Leave It" in my review of By Any Other Name.

Spider Robinson is not afraid to take a stand that might be controversial or unpopular. "Ain't That A Shame" is a startling defence of being a consumer. "Mass Destruction Isn't Rocket Science," is a criticism of Bush's Nuclear Missile Defense shield. "Buzzed High Zonked Stoned Wasted," is a discussion of the benefits of driving while under the influence of mild doses of marijuana. In "Devil's Advocate," he does the almost unthinkable -- defend the moral character of Bill Gates. It immediately follows "Nuking Themselves in the Foot or, Look out, tech's press!" which criticizes the behaviour of Microsoft towards its critics.

Despite repeatedly calling attention to humanity's many flaws during the Crazy Years, it is also clear to the reader that Robinson is neither a Luddite nor a nihilist and is truly hoping for us to make it through this maddening era in one piece. Several essays tout the urgency of space colonization or the achievement of heroes of the past including Theodore Sturgeon and Nikola Tesla, and he also uses his column to honour everyone from Nova Scotia hippies to little known but influential computer geniuses.

Though I sometimes disagreed with Robinson's opinions, I always enjoyed the strength of his beliefs and his constant need to consider what the future may bring. Even when dealing with the darkest subjects, he engages each topic with the kind of humour and insight all too often lacking in the opinion pages of most newspapers. When The Globe and Mail suddenly quit carrying his columns, Spider Robinson hailed the benefits to his sanity and creative output; however, the rest of us have lost a much-needed voice of reason. Until the next time a science-fiction writer with a vision as piercing and a mind as sharp is given this kind of rarefied opportunity, The Crazy Years will just have to see us through.

Copyright © 2005 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer and bookseller from Austin, TX. Fortunately for someone of our era, he has several gaskets loose. Unlike Spider Robinson, Kit isn't wasting his time writing and so he has plenty of time to use the Internet; you can read his journal at todfox.livejournal.com.


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