Tor, 1996, 217 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-85776-4
Asking me to review Callahan’s Legacy is akin to ask a priest to judge a wet T-shirt contest. Sure, it might be enjoyable but does he really agree with this stuff? No chance!
Robinson’s “Callahan” series is usually about places (bars, two times out of three) where people come in to feel better, be witty and indulge in adult pleasures. (sex, drugs and alco’holl). There is an assorted gallery of wacky characters, wackier situations, and the wackiest wordplay you’ll find anywhere. Everything is told from an impeccably delightful narrator’s voice, probably the wittiest 1st-person-POV this side of Heinlein. In short, it’s a blast.
But as it so often happens with this kind of light-hearted fiction, our enjoyment goes out when the plot comes in. The first half of the book is almost completely fun: Only a first chapter marred by tasteless pregnancy/urine/sex jokes diminishes the fun. Once Mary’s Place (the bar) opens for the night, the book really gets in gear.
So the roof is removed by a tornado (only to be replaced by another almost immediately afterward) and the first irregular comes in, opens a guitar case full of hundred-dollar bills and begin shaping paper airplanes out of them, only to throw them into the fire. (Every good bar has a fireplace, of course.) More wordplay ensues and then the weird stuff happens.
But when Mary Callahan and her husband time-teleport in the middle of the bar, the Earth’s very existence is suddenly in peril and the novel’s jolly (harmless) tone changes to something slightly more bitter. Before long, one of the bar’s regular is describing his homosexual experiences (told in dialect, no less!) the narrator’s wife is giving birth, everyone’s linked in a oh-so-sensual group consciousness and the world’s biggest threat is knocking at the door. Add the use of recreational drugs in the mix (I hope you don’t mind the orgy taking place in the background, sir?) and I’m beginning to get seriously annoyed.
Which is, I believe, Robinson’s intent: How straight is the world today! How many problems are we creating for ourselves by rejecting free love and a few good joints! Quick, Batman, let’s go back to the sixties!
What makes it irritating is the smug, no-discussion-is-allowed tone the book takes. Much like it’s impossible to disagree with Heinlein, any difference of opinion with Robinson is a sign of a traumatized existence.
Reading a book review is sometime as revealing of the reviewer than it is of the book. The last paragraphs are doubtlessly the product of a closed mind, will mumble a few. So be it.
Yet, despite my objections to elements of the book’s conclusion, Callahan’s Legacy is fun. While the puns aren’t all equal (a few of them are downright obscure… and the fact that English is my second language doesn’t really help.) there are a few good ones and the initial atmosphere of the bar is pleasant. One almost wishes that somewhere, there is such a thing as Callahan’s. While the effect may lessens after a while (I’ve seen a few jaded reader comment that Callahan’s Legacy was inferior to the other books.) this is a novel that will leave you smiling at the fun and groaning at the puns. Readers beware!