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Spotlight on: Callahan's Con by Spider Robinson

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Callahan's Con by Spider Robinson Spider Robinson, Callahan's Con (A Callahan Series Novel)

My experience with the Callahan series has been unconventional, at best. Introduced to them through a video game my brother-in-law had, I picked up the only Spider Robinson novel my local library had -- Callahan's Legacy. Little did I know that this was not even close to the beginning of the series. Mike Callahan was the protagonist of five previous novels (or collections of short stories) and hardly appears in Callahan's Legacy at all. Mostly he is spoken of in reverent tones.

The hero of that book is Jake Stonebender (an apparent Spider Robinson doppelganger) who has opened a bar in Callahan's stead and named it after Mike's wife, Mary. Thus, Mary's Place--and not Callahan's Place--is the setting of Callahan's Legacy.

In any case, the puns and camaraderie inherent in the relationships of Jake, Long-Drink McGonnigle, Doc Webster, the Lucky Duck, and others sold me and I knew I was going to have to read another one by the time I got to page ten.

During further searches for Callahan books (but not wanting to actually buy a new copy of my own, I later found The Callahan Touch in a used bookstore (Another Story in Worcester, MA) while at the same time discovering that the proprietor was a fan. The Callahan Touch was a backwards step in the right direction, being the previous novel in the series (the first of Callahan series, mach two).

As I had read two novels of the latter series, I was loath to start back over from the beginning. So, when I was in the market for a Callahan novel, I purchased Callahan's Key and had thus read the existing novels in the Stonebender series. Not in the proper order, but I had read them all. Now all I had available to me was to go back and get The Callahan Chronicals (sic) and backtrack through the history of Spider Robinson's classic series.

Probably needless to say (but then why am I telling you), that didn't happen. This past week, I saw Callahan's Con on the New Book shelf in the library and that saved me the trouble of having to make the decision.

Callahan's Con takes place ten years after the events of Callahan's Key--the moving of the bar and all its patrons to southern Florida and the subsequent naming of "The Place." Superintelligent toddler Erin Stonebender-Berkowitz is now thirteen and becomes embroiled in a conflict with the state education board due to her not attending school. She is technically being "homeschooled" (a completely useless practice due to her supreme intelligence) but Jake and Zoey have not kept up with the proper paperwork. Jake wants to wait for Erin (he doesn't speak bureaucratese) but makes things worse when bureaucrat extraordinaire Ludnyola Czrjghnczl ("accent on the rjgh") ends up in the swimming pool with resident merman, Lexington.

In the meantime, a would-be-gangster comes into the bar offering "protection" for a price. Fortunately, someone recognizes him as the spitting image of his father, Tony Donuts. So the gang comes up with a plan to get him off their backs. A con involving a famous piece of Floridian history (or mythology, as the case may be). The ending involves the usual impossiblities such as time-travel and various seemingly unconquerable conflicts which are, of course, solved in the nick of time by various deus ex machinae. But this is all part of the fun.

Spider Robinson is to science-fiction what Terry Pratchett is to fantasy. We just let him run with the ideas and don't ask questions. Anyone who has read previous Callahan novels will recognize the seemingly random plot progression. But it's all just a medium for the puns (the groaner the better) and love and laughter. He's not quite the heir to Douglas Adams (who possibly could be?) but you can't fault him for trying.

I don't read the Callahan novels for the plots, anyway. I read them for the characters and their interactions with each other. Although you'd better stay alert reading Callahan's Con as there are a lot of those characters to keep up with. All the ones from previous books are at least mentioned and more are constantly being added to the place--wherever it is located geographically or temporally--where "shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased."

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