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You’re My Painkiller

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon  (Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, volume 1)

By Spider Robinson 

23 Aug, 2020

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Spider Robinson’s 1977 Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon is the first of ten Callahan and Callahan-related books. 

Callahan’s! A Long Island bar where damaged people come to drink and recover in company. Widower Jake Stonebender washed up at Callahan’s after killing his wife and child thanks to his inept car repair. He narrates the tales that follow.

Most of the stories begin with a pun. Or puns. I suppose some people like that sort of thing.

The series was popular enough to inspire newsgroups, websites, and computer games. Although my impression is that the series suffered diminishing returns, not to mention diminishing sales, no doubt some remnant of the former legions of fans survives to this day.

I regret to report, and I know there are lots of you out there who don’t want to hear this, that for the most part the stories don’t really hold up, that a lot of them are contrived sentimental tripe. There are other problems: sixteen-year-old me never noticed the unfortunate introduction of the African-American robber who pops in to give the crew a common enemy, the pure-quill banana republic featured in The Time Traveler,” the obsequious fawning over women that somehow doesn’t extend to having any as bar regulars, or that the set-up for the series involves a classic example of Women in Fridges. Or that the one woman who does somehow make it on stage alive has a Heinleinish plot centered on fertility. 

Rereading this was a bit like chugging a pitcher full of treacle. At least it was short. 

Introduction: Spider Robinson: The SF Writer as Empath • essay by Ben Bova

Bova lauds Robinson’s stories, many of which ran in Analog.

SF seems a bit unclear on the difference between empathy and sentimentality.

Foreword (Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon) • essay 

What it says on the tin.

The Guy with the Eyes” • [Callahan] • (1973) • short story 

An alien robot scout drops by Callahan’s and discovers to its horror that Earth is not entirely horrible. Callahan’s has qualities its masters will value. Alas, it has no ability to prevent itself from sending a report to its masters that will certainly doom Earth. Can the crew somehow overcome the robot’s easily circumvented programming?

The Time Traveler” • [Callahan] • (1974) • novelette 

A distraught gun-waving white intruder is given the opportunity to explain what has upset him — ten years in a banana-republic prison during a time of enormous social change in America. The crew offer moral support before everyone bonds by ejecting a gun-waving African-American intruder. 

The Centipede’s Dilemma” • [Callahan] • short story 

The crew ruins a psionically gifted man’s life with one question too many.

Two Heads Are Better Than One” • [Callahan] • (1975) • short story

A newcomer to the bar wrestles with impending telepathic doom. 

The Law of Conservation of Pain” • [Callahan] • (1974) • short story 

A time traveler from the futuristic 1990s arrives hoping to save an African-American singer from her tragic backstory as abused sex worker. But can he do this without smothering her musical gift?

However you’re imagining this, it’s worse. 

Just Dessert” • [Callahan] • short story 

A quick-thinking regular adulterates a prankster’s soup, soup recently used as a prop. 

Kind of interesting that the doc carries substances with which to adulterate food somewhere on or close to his person, in a fashion that allows spur-of-the-moment adulteration1.

A Voice Is Heard in Ramah … ” • [Callahan] • (1975) • short story 

When a woman ventures into an almost exclusively male Callahan’s, she is welcomed as though she too were a person. An unusually long life has left her with no surviving child. She’s infertile now, something for which the youthful Methuselah can see no solution. But can the crew at Callahan’s?

Unnatural Causes” • [Callahan] • (1975) • novelette 

A visitor seeking absolution discovers there are limits to the crew’s forgiveness.

The Wonderful Conspiracy” • [Callahan] • short story 

Jake learns an interesting tidbit about Callahan. 

This features a development even sixteen-year-old me thought was a bit of a misstep. 

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloonis available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble). I did not find it at either Book Depository or Chapters-Indigo.

1: Editor’s note: perhaps he’s an old-fashioned doctor who does house-calls and carries a medical valise everywhere, a valise full of drugs and implements? Familiar from Victorian novels but odd in a 1977 publication.