Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Mar 29 10:49:07 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #25

%T Callahan's Lady
%A Spider Robinson
%I Berkeley/Ace
%D Mar 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 237
%G 0-441-09072-9

This once the back-cover blurb doesn't lie -- if you liked Spider Robinson's Callahan's Bar stories, you will love Callahan's Lady -- and the bordello she runs that does with sex what Callahan's did with booze. Several Callahan's Bar regulars (including Mike himself, Ralph Von Wau Wau, Fast Eddie and Jake) make cameo appearances, and there is the expected ration of comedy, drama, and awful puns. I enjoyed the Callahan's Bar stories a lot, and I enjoyed this book a lot too.

And yet, and yet...here, as in much of Spider Robinson's writing, there lurks a sense of something unfinished, unconvincing, immature. Perhaps it's the density and obviousness of the Heinlein references. Perhaps it's Spider's wide-eyed faith in easy victories over hard problems, the tendency his stuff has to fall into a half-hour-with-three-breaks-for-our-sponsor dramedy format, with everything wrapped up in a neat little bow at the last frame. Perhaps it's the very earnestness with which he works to wrap every story around an ethical point of some sort.

The total effect is pleasant and superficially involving, but too clever in spots and a touch preachy -- a lot like the old Trek episodes Gene Roddenberry used to turn out when he was feeling high-minded. The characters will grab you quickly and stay with you after you've finished the book, but you'll never quite believe in them as real human beings -- they're too perfect.

Occasionally (as in Telempath or Night of Power) Spider has created worlds and characters that are more complex, more convincing -- that reflect more of the quiet ambiguity human beings generally live in. Why he so often settles for writing fluffy, didactic morality playlets like the ones collected in Callahan's Lady is a really interesting question.

Maybe they're part of his continuing homage to Heinlein. The old man, after all, had more than a touch of the didactic moralist in him. Well, I loved and revered RAH too, but if this is what's going on, Spider Robinson's true authorial voice needs to get out from under. The Master was the Master, a law unto himself. Neither Spider nor anybody else will ever write more than ersatz Heinlein -- and I'd rather read a first-rate Robinson than ersatz anything, any day.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Mar 29 10:49:07 EST 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>