BOOK REVIEW – SPIDER ROBINSON – CALLAHAN’S KEY 2000 Bantham Spectre Press.
A late entry in the lovely, and very funny Callahan series. With Callahan away saving the cosmos elsewhere, the news reaches Jake Stonebender that it is his job to save the Universe from Earth. Jake has tried running a bar on the same Utopian principles that Callahan run his with. Unfortunately, the project ended with the destruction of the bar, but Jake’s friends, including The Lucky Duck, (a man who creates good fortune for all around him despite personal pessimism), and Nikola Tesla (who is not as dead as history records), stand by him. Jake also has his 18-month-old daughter, who is hyper-intelligent, being possessed by the benevolent Goddess of the Internet. Jake decides to move his operation from the blizzard maligned Long Island to the Florida Keys, especially to Key west (the Callahan’s Key of the title). His friends all decide to go too, dropping everything, or finding that manipulations caused by The Lucky Duck, make it practical for them to do so.
The first half of the book is an epic scale road trip as the hippies move South, collecting more oddball characters on the way – they even pick up Pixel a cat belonging to the late Robert a Heinlan, which proves to literally be The Cat who Could Walk Through walls described in one of Heinlan’s books. (Robinson sees his own book as a tribute to the late great author).
There is a deeply moving scene in which the hero and his allies stop to witness the launch of a space shuttle, a real launch – the first to take place after the Challenger disaster, which killed the entire crew of such a ship. (Though written in 200, the book is set a decade earlier). Callahan describes how many of the crowd seem to lose interest in the amazing spectacle before the ship has vanished from sight, or even reached past the height at which the preceding launch turned to tragedy. It’s a deeply moving tribute to the real heroes of the space age.
Arriving at the Keys, the hippy convoy find the whole area is one vast utopia, and one in which they fit in all too easily. They are used to being a haven of sanity in the madness of the big cities. Robinson shows how this ideal community would disintegrate in on itself within a generation though.
As they settle and have fun, Tesla reminds them of their mission to save us all, which is now imminent. A space shuttle laser could fire on a misread signal from the Mir Space Station, at the height of a hurricane, creating an unlikely set of sub-atomic particles that could destroy the whole fabric of space and time. With help from Tesla, and his genius daughter, Jake sets out to achieve the impossible, and save everything without giving away any evidence of his involvement to the authorities. A plan involving stealing missiles, teleportation, and much more besides, is put into place – Callahan, who Jake misses a great deal, might even notice its success.
A touching story with a now familiar host of characters – many chapters have virtually no SF, but the puns that Robinson delights in permeate the book and make for truly delightful reading. Not one of the best Callahan stories but still much better than many other books out there.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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