Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Callahan Touch

Spider Robinson
Completed 4/18/2020, Reviewed 4/18/2020
4 stars

This book is about a bar where strange and magical and science fiction-y things happen.  It’s a new bar, Mary’s Place, which evolved out of the remains of Callahan’s, a bar that was at the center of the first five books of the series.  It’s a place where the regulars are like family.  Having been sober for twenty-eight years now, it brings up memories of the sort of place I was always looking for in a bar, but never found in reality, a place where you could go on a bender for a week with no repercussions.  The reality is never as pleasant as the fiction, and of course the only magic that ever happened to me was that I made it home alive every night.  Aside from the grim realities of addictive drinking, this fantasy was very enjoyable, once I got the form of the book down.  It’s really just a setting for long short stories about random strange happenings, comradery, music, and lots of bad puns. There’s no real plot, and when I accepted that, the book opened up into a pretty fun romp.

The setting is the opening night of Mary’s Place.  Only the old regulars from Callahan’s are invited, but of course, other people show up.  First, a new guy appears who it eventually turns out had magical parents.  Then, another man comes in who wants to kill himself because he believes he created the AIDS virus.  He feels responsible for the death of millions, as well as his lover.  It becomes the job of the owner Jake and several of the regulars to talk him down.  Then, a being from Irish legend, a cluricaune, shows up and absorbs all the alcohol in the house.  A cluricaune is mischievous fairy with a tremendous love of drinking that haunts pubs and wine cellars, sort of like a drunk leprechaun.  Then (I know I’m using “then” a lot), after a few days of continuously being open and constant drinking by the patrons, more people show up and music spontaneously erupts.  Jake the owner eventually takes the stage and brings down the house.  A random person enters the bar with a bass guitar and begins playing and singing harmony with him.  Jake falls for her and tries to get to know her, but she has her own issues.  Amidst all this, Jake’s Macintosh randomly turns on, even though it’s not plugged in, as if it were haunted, and gives advice to Jake and the patrons.

It is like a collection of short stories or novelettes within a common setting.  In past novels, the original bar was visited by aliens and other strange creatures.  It was destroyed by a small nuclear bomb used to kill hostile invaders.  Mary’s Place is the successor and continues to have strange things happen.  There is no real overarching plot.  It is just a series of events.  Once I realized there was no plot, I was able to take the book at face value.  It does come across as a sounding board for the author’s inclusive point of view, with gay, lesbian, and African-American characters.  But he makes it enjoyable and interesting. 

I read this out of order because it had a gay character in it, the man who believes he unleashed HIV upon the populace when he was experimenting with a malaria cure using green monkey blood.  There are also lesbian regulars at the bar.  I included it in the LGBTQ resource list on Worlds Without End, and wanted to verify that it belongs on the list.  It was only nominated for one award, the Aurora, a Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy award.  It is highly entertaining, a fun read, and at times, very heartfelt.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s got a warm casualness to it.  It does not come across as preachy despite the plethora of author’s opinions that come through.  It’s really well written with nice prose and believable dialogue.  The characters that are featured are nicely developed, and Jake the owner is particularly well-fleshed-out.  Many of the regulars had been featured in previous books in the series, but you don’t have to have read them to get a feel for them.  This book is quite stand-alone, as it brings you up to date without too much exposition.  It’s an easy and enjoyable read. 

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