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Callahan's Con
Spider Robinson
Tor, 286 pages

Callahan's Con
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. The Robinsons now live in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Spider Robinson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Free Lunch
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

I first met Spider Robinson (disguised as Jake Stonebender) in a glorious romp of a tale involving a gloriously and unapologetically plastered punaholic in the shape of an Irish sprite called a cluricaune. The being in question was the focus of a series of increasingly more wild and improbably pun-improvisations set to the tune of "That's Amore." After I had finished wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, I determined to further investigate this author -- and was thus pulled into the wacky world of Mike Callahan, Jake Stonebender, and their merry men.

I've been laughing with Spider Robinson ever since. I frankly could not believe that anyone could keep up that level of punnery for an entire book -- but he did, for several, and became one of the people whose new books I will buy, no questions asked, as soon as they hit the stores.

Things began to change, just a little, with the novel preceding this latest one. In Callahan's Key, Spider Robinson, no longer content to merely make me laugh, turned around and made me cry. It was astonishing how easy it seemed to be for him to achieve, but on the whole I probably should not have been surprised -- after all, this was the latest opus from one who had encapsulated one of the greatest emotional truths of the human nature, that shared pain is halved and shared joy is doubled. In a way it was made easier for him in the sense that he was writing on a subject which has always fired up my own spirit -- his description of watching a shuttle launch made me want to laugh, cry, stand up and cheer, all at once. But that was then; this is now, and his latest one, Callahan's Con, not only makes me laugh and makes me cry -- it makes me mourn for the passing of a character as though that character were a real person and a friend. At the same time, the book encapsulates another great truth -- that the greatest tragedies can hold within themselves moment of the purest, most joyous laughter possible. The laughter that leads to tears that are a release from that tragedy.

Spider Robinson is still making me giggle out loud. But this book is rather more like pushing aside the cream floating at the top of a glass of Irish coffee, and discovering that underneath it is black, and often bitter. And that these facts do not detract one whit from the fact that taken as a whole an Irish coffee, like life, is something to be savoured.

Seeing as Mike Callahan isn't really answering his emergency phone these days when Jake tries to call him, the title of Robinson's latest is something of a con in itself, since Callahan appears in it only as a memory -- but this is a quibble. The book itself has stayed with me in the hours and days since I've finished reading Callahan's Con. I don't exactly know why. I do know it's the kind of thing that latches onto your heart. In earlier Callahan stories, Spider Robinson was plainly kicking up and having fun -- write a tale with protagonists that include a bunch of time travelers, an assortment of extraterrestrials, an out-of-this-world whorehouse, a clutch of happily tipsy and stridently paronomasiac bullet-proof barflies, a brace of Ukrainian bureaucrats and Nikola Tesla, and you can't help going off at the deep end. The only story that will contain all these things just has to be a wild ride. But with Callahan's Key and more especially with Callahan's Con, Spider Robinson -- while he hasn't for a moment stopped having fun -- is doing something far more serious. He's building a legacy. He's using the funhouse bricks that were the earlier zany Callahan novels in raising an edifice that will endure for a great deal longer than that.

If I had a fireplace, a glass, and a convenient bottle of Bushmill's, I'd raise a toast and smash the glass in the time-honoured Callahan's Place way. I'll have to be content with simply saying that I will continue to watch out for and enjoy every new book that Spider Robinson puts out there.

Copyright © 2003 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Following her successful two-volume fantasy series, Changer of Days, her latest novel, Jin-shei, is due out from Harper San Francisco in the spring of 2004.

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