by Spider Robinson



294pp/$14.95/November 2004

The Crazy Years
Cover by Melody Cadungog

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Spider Robinson is best known for his series of Callahan stories, his award winning Stardance series, and his love of Robert Heinlein.  It is the last of these that provided him with the title of this collection of articles and essays.  Although some of these articles delve into matters science fictional, the majority of them look at contemporary society and extrapolate the future from today's culture.  Since this is the stock in trade of science fiction authors, the tenor of the book is not surprising.

Topics range from the social to the political.  The latter takes on an interesting view given Robinson’s residence in Canada and his expatriate status from the United States.  In “O Canada,” he explains his reasons for taking a quarter of a century to apply for Canadian citizenship.  is political views aren't limited to merely which politicians are in power, but what they are doing.  In "If You Take It...We Can't Leave It," he discusses the ramifications of the "Sonny Bono Act," which extended copyright by two decades.   Given Robinson’s work as a writer, some of his stances in this essay may be surprising.

The articles are all brief and can be read in just a few moments each.  However at their best, they are provocative and clever.  One instance of this is the article "More than enough is-a too much...," in which he explains why he would turn down 167 million dollars.  While Robinson gives his reasons, all of which appear reasonable, it would be interesting to see what would happen if he actually were offered the money without any strings attached.  The key to the article is not whether Robinson would accept the money, but rather to think about an "obvious" situation with an open mind.  

Robinson’s tone throughout is entertaining and light.  Even when he seems to be trying to convert the reader to his way of thinking, he doesn’t come across as preachy or arrogant.  Instead, each essay appears to have been written to open a dialogue…between Robinson and the reader and between the reader and himself.  Even at his most curmudgeonly, in the essay “Character Defects,” in which Robinson rails against ASCII, Robinson’s rants come across as good natured.

Perhaps as befits a science fiction authors, several of the essays deal with space exploration, from the sadness of “The Day It Hailed Columbia” to the hopefulness of “If You Can Fry and Egg in Space, Hilton Wants to Talk To You.”  In fact, the Columbia article looks to a bright future for space exploration in the face of one of NASA’s worst disasters.

Robinson also refuses to neglect the human element in technological advances, whether it is his coffee pot, Ebay, or multi-functional James Bondian pens.  Too many people who don’t read science fiction view technology apart from the human element and, as Robinson points out, this is what causes problems.

Overall, The Crazy Years is an informative, clever, and stimulating examination of modern culture and technology, both in the United States and Canada.  Of course with the modern world, limiting such a discussion by geographical area is hardly a possibility.  Just as with his fiction, Robinson writes these essays with wit and clarity, making them enjoyable even when the reader disagrees with the sentiment.

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