Books

Short works

Books : reviews

Spider Robinson.
Melancholy Elephants.
1985

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

Melancholy Elephants. 1984
The senator can see nothing wrong with extending copyright indefinitely. Why is the artist's widow so opposed?
Half an Oaf. 1976
The top half of a not very bright time-traveller needs to get his time-belt fixed
High Infidelity. 1984
She's upset when he seems to have forgotten their 20th anniversary, but he has a surprise gift planned
Antinomy. 1978
She's woken up from cold sleep cured, but has forgotten something very important about her doctor
In the Olden Days. 1984
Tales of the Good Old Days
Chronic Offender. 1984
A time travelling gangster story
No Renewal. 1980
Alone on his birthday, he wonders just how old it is, because that is important
Common Sense. 1985
A blind spacer is the only one who can work out how the aliens communicate
Rubber Soul. 1984
A rather famous dead person is brought back to life
Father Paradox. 1985
True Minds. 1984
Anne Wingate is sure novelist Philip Rose knows nothing about love, but discovers quite how wrong she is
Satan's Children. 1979
A nightclub singer learns about a new truth drug
Not Fade Away. 1985

Spider Robinson.
User Friendly.
Baen. 1998

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 6 April 1997

A collection of short stories and essays, in the usual Spider style: Heinleinesque, but with puns, and more sex. I complained that Callahan's Legacy might have worked better as separate short stories; here I want to complain that at least one of these short stories deserves to be expanded into a full novel! Whereas most are neat, 'one idea', self-contained stories that are well wrapped up, The Magnificent Conspiracy feels to me like it's just the beginning of something much more interesting, and I want to keep reading to find out what happens.

I read all the stories in one gulp, which may have been a mistake, because that helped me notice some repetition of throw-away lines. Indeed, one major event in The Magnificent Conspiracy is identical to an incident in Callahan's Legacy, but told from a different PoV. I assume it is meant to be the same incident, rather than an example of 'reuse', but it is rather disconcerting, having read the two so close together.

My edition of the book disgracefully includes no prior publication information. [I have subsequently added some information from The Locus Index.] Why do I want to know when a story was written? Well, for example, one story goes "...discovered the star drive in 1995". So, how far in the future was that event when the story was written? A decade? Next year? Last year? It makes a difference, and so I want to mentally translate it that far into the future for me, to get a similar impact. It's all relative.

(btw, in case you were wondering, the rather nice cover art -- a mediaeval group burning a computer at the stake (some days, I can sympathise...) lead by Spider in plate armour -- appears nowhere in the stories.)

Contents

Not Fade Away. 1985
Copyright Violation. 1988
He knows the beautiful woman who picks him up in the bar is too good to be true, but he decides nothing could be so bad as to spoil the experience, not even death. But he is wrong.
User Friendly. 1986
Unknown, powerful aliens have started appropriating human bodies for their own uses, without the consent of the owners.
The Magnificent Conspiracy. 1977
Why would a second hand car dealer sell cars for what they are really worth? And what would be the response of others if he did?
Mentors. 1998
(essay) Of Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and Ben Bova.
Teddy the Fish. 1998
Rap, about Theodore Sturgeon
His Own Petard. 1993
How the loathsome SF critic died.
Admiral Bob. 1998
Rap, about Robert Heinlein
When No Man Pursueth. 1974
Fleming spots a murder on board his spaceship, and desperately tries to get help. But everyone he contacts about it disappears. [I assume this is an attempt to use every cliché in the book, but humorously. It doesn't quite work -- it's not Spider's usual style of humour -- and I probably wouldn't have carried on reading it if I hadn't know who the author was, and so could trust that the clichéd style was deliberate!]
Too Soon We Grow Old. 1978
We seem best suited to bear children emotionally just when biologically we are no longer able. But this will not always be the case.
Plus Ca Change. 1998
(essay) Even when all the wondrous things foretold come to pass, Murphy's law will still hold.
The Gifts of the Magistrate. 1968
The Vandal is the most reviled person in the Solar System, and the people are baying for blood, but the Magistrate is the only one who knows why the crime was committed.
Distraction. 1998
Two burglars break into an old run-down house, but they have chosen the wrong victim this time.
Orphan of Eden. 1996
Spider is posed a moral dilemma from the future.
Pandora's Last Gift. 1998
(essay) Today, cynicism is fashionable, and hope is sneered at. But it is vitally important, and not at all unreasonable, to have hope.
"---and Subsequent Construction". 1995
A supergenius is trying to build a time machine -- but why does her future self want to destroy her marriage?
Seduction of the Ignorant. 1998
(speech) Literacy is declining because it is difficult and has such beguiling competitors. Tips on how to con your children into learning to read.

Spider Robinson.
By Any Other Name.
Baen. 2001

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 July 2002

Another collection of short stories, and a few essays, in the usual Spider style. There are one or two good ones, but mostly they are so-so, or don't appeal to my sense of humour.

Unlike User Friendly, this book does include prior publication dates. (Although it would have been nice for the frontmatter to have pointed out that most of these stories can be found in Melancholy Elephants, and that one is the front end of a novel.) Most of the stories were written in the late 70s and early 80s, and set well in the future, by 20 years or so. The real world hasn't kept up with Spider's imagination. But most can be salvaged by mentally setting them 20 years in the future from now. So the only one that's really dated is "Rubber Soul".

Contents

Melancholy Elephants. 1984
The senator can see nothing wrong with extending copyright indefinitely. Why is the artist's widow so opposed?
Half an Oaf. 1976
The top half of a not very bright time-traveller needs to get his time-belt fixed
High Infidelity. 1984
She's upset when he seems to have forgotten their 20th anniversary, but he has a surprise gift planned
Antinomy. 1978
She's woken up from cold sleep cured, but has forgotten something very important about her doctor
In the Olden Days. 1984
Tales of the Good Old Days
Chronic Offender. 1984
A time travelling gangster story
No Renewal. 1980
Alone on his birthday, he wonders just how old it is, because that is important
Common Sense. 1985
A blind spacer is the only one who can work out how the aliens communicate
Rubber Soul. 1984
A rather famous dead person is brought back to life
True Minds. 1984
Anne Wingate is sure novelist Philip Rose knows nothing about love, but discovers quite how wrong she is
Satan's Children. 1979
A nightclub singer learns about a new truth drug
Apogee. 1980
The demon has given him everything he asked for, but he's not satisfied
Tin Ear. 1980
Two Stargate Keepers needs their shared music to communicate without the alien understanding
Silly Weapons. 1980
silly, but not very funny
Nobody Likes to be Lonely. 1980
Ten years solitary in luxury. Piece of cake?
"If This Goes On---". 1991
population crisis
The Crazy Years. 1996
short rants
By Any Other Name. 1976
A young man sets out to kill the person who destroyed the human race [first few chapters of Telempath]

Spider Robinson.
The Free Lunch.
Tor. 2001

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 November 2002

Mike is a smart kid who has decided to go "under" at the amazing Dreamworld themepark. There he meets up with another refuge, and he starts learning how the park works. But there's a problem: too many Trolls are leaving the park each night, and some bad guys are showing an unhealthy interest in this.

Spider has written a fast and (mostly) funny "Heinlein juvenile"-esque story here, with some good sidebars on responsibility and courage. The pace doesn't let up, Mike is smart and not cute, the background is fun (and lets Spider put in references to just about every one of his favourite SF stories), and the descriptions of how certain of the Dreamworld special effects work mirrors Heinlein's best info-dumping style. [I'm assuming there must be a sequel: after all, the entire world is not resurrected at the end...]

Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson.
Variable Star.
Tor. 2006

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 3 January 2008

After Robert Heinlein's death, several pages of notes that he wrote in 1955 outlining the idea for a novel were found, and Spider Robinson given the task of turning them into a novel.

It's 2286. Joel Johnstone is a poor but talented musician, who is desperately in love with Jinny Hamilton, and she with him, but they can't afford to marry. However, Joel discovers something that makes him run far far away, so far and so fast that Jinny can never catch up with him. The main story is then his "coming of age" over the next several years in a small community, finished off with a mind-blowing catastrophe, and a hastily wrapped-up ending.

Is this a Heinlein, or a Robinson? Well, it feels a lot like a Heinlein. In fact, it's a very strange experience, reading a novel that feels like an early Heinlein (early enough that it's a jolly good story, not just an interesting lecture), yet clearly, from events and technology, written in the 21st century. It's a world initially consistent with Heinlein's future history, so Neil Armstrong didn't happen, and Prophet Nehemiah Scudder and the Covenant did. But it's also a world in which 9/11 happened. And I don't remember the mind-blowing catastrophe towards the end (you'll know it when you get to it) from Future History, either.

There are clearly Robinson touches, such as the dancing, and, of course, the puns. But the number of people who die, and stay dead, definitely points to Heinlein rather than Robinson. As does the coming of age feel, and the competent-but-naive Heinlein-esque hero. The lack of major female characters is also typical of (early) Heinlein (the female characters are strong, but not major).

A good page-turner, and it's marvellous to have a new Heinlein novel to read. Well done Spider!

Spider Robinson.
The Crazy Years.
BenBella Books. 2004

Spider Robinson.
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon.
1977

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

The Guy With the Eyes. 1977
The Time-Traveller. 1977
The Centipede's Dilemma. 1977
Two Heads Are Better Than One. 1977
The Law of Conservation of Pain. 1977
Just Dessert. 1977
"A Voice Is Heard in Ramah ...". 1977
Unnatural Causes. 1977
The Wonderful Conspiracy. 1977

Spider Robinson.
Time Travellers Strictly Cash.
1981

(read but not reviewed)

Contents

Fivesight. 1979
Soul Search. 1979
Spider vs. the Hax of Sol III. 1975
Dag Day Evening. 1977
God Is an Iron. 1979
Rah Rah R.A.H.!. 1980
Have You Heard the One ...?. 1980
Local Champ. 1979
The Web of Sanity. 1981
Mirror/rorriM Off the Wall. 1977
Serpent's Teeth. 1981

Spider Robinson.
Callahan's Legacy.
Tor. 1996

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 8 November 1997

Callahan's famous bar is no more, so Jake Stonebender has opened a replacement: Mary's Place. All the old regulars are gathered together, plus a couple of new arrivals with their own eccentricities and problems, when disaster strikes. Earth is yet again in danger of being annihilated by an all-powerful servant of the alien Cockroach, and once again the regulars are the only people who have any chance of saving the planet.

This is a very patchy story. Most of it is fun, but it doesn't really gel. Indeed, it might have worked better as separate short stories. We get to hear the problems of the two new arrivals, and three of the oldest regulars tell their own harrowing stories that caused them to need Callahan's in the first place. Then there are the usual truly awful puns, and lots of jazz music. Interwoven with all this is a rather slight tale of yet another alien invasion, plus enough repeated background from earlier books to annoy those who've read them, but probably not enough for those who haven't.

For Callahan completeists only.

Spider Robinson.
Lifehouse.
Baen. 1997

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 6 April 1997

June forgets something weird in the forest, and the next thing she knows, she and Paul are being pursued by powerful time travellers bent on avoiding a Paradox. They desperately need help from experts -- SF fans and convention organisers Wally and Moira. But unfortunately for June and Paul, Wally and Moira have 90,000 good reasons for distrusting them.

Spider Robinson captures the feel of the network of fandom, and of SF conventions. It's fun to watch Wally and Moira -- forty-something fat fen -- both from their own viewpoint, and from the viewpoint of mildly unsympathetic mundanes. The plot is rollicking good fun -- even if everyone is a trifle too intelligent and reasonable -- but does have the usual Spider problem of an over-happy ending.

Although touted as a sequel to Deathkiller (a repackaging of Mindkiller and Time Pressure), this is stand-alone, merely using the background plot device from the others. By the way, the cover art is truly awful; don't judge this book by it.

Book covers are the Baen of the author's existence, I think.

-- Louann Miller, rasfw, Jan 2002
(in a discussion of the cover for Lois McMaster Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity)

Spider Robinson.
Very Bad Deaths.
Baen. 2004

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 15 June 2009

Newspaper columnist Russell Walker is contemplating suicide when he is contacted by his college roommate from 30 years ago. "Smelly" has discovered that a despicable serial murderer is about to butcher a local family. But he can't go to the police himself, because he's a telepath who can't bear to be in close contact with people. So Russell has to act as intermediary.

On the one hand, this is fun: how would you convince the police that a telepathic friend has information about a future murder? All this is tackled with Spider's typical bravura hippy style, and the interaction of the middle-aged dope-smoking hippy and the young strait-laced police officer is well drawn. (And he clearly doesn't like the Vancouver police!) But on the other hand, the description of the planned murder is truly revolting. In some sense this degree of horror is needed to justify the actions of the heroes, but it is an image I could have well done without having in my head.

Spider Robinson.
Very Hard Choices.
Baen. 2008

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 10 October 2009

Russell, Zudie, and Nika haven't seen each other since the traumatic events of Very Bad Deaths four years ago. But now, just as Russell's estranged son Jesse has come for a long overdue visit, problems start again. Someone is on the trail of Zudie, and they might all have to do something equally traumatic again, to keep him safe.

This is fast paced, with lots of clever flashbacks, snappy dialogue, interesting spycraft and technology, gobs of liberal politics, philosophies, and conspiracies, and a great sense of rain. But all in all, it's a rant followed by a letdown, once we learn the motivation of the tracker, and the resolution of the problem. Fine as aeroplane fodder (which is where I read it), but not much more.