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Spider Robinson: Laugh When It Hurts February 2004

Spider Robinson's debut story, "The Guy with the Eyes" in 1973, was the first of his ongoing, humorous "Callahan's Place" time travel stories set in a bar. These are gathered in several collections beginning with Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1977). Novels in the series began with Callahan's Lady in 1989, and most recently include Callahan's Con (2003).

Robinson won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974, a Hugo Award in 1977 for novella "By Any Other Name", and the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for novella "Stardance" (1977) co-written with wife Jeanne. He won another Hugo in 1983 for short story "Melancholy Elephants". Among other works are novel Mindkiller (1982) and its two sequels, and
Photo by Beth Gwinn
collection God Is an Iron and Other Stories (2002). Robinson plays guitar, and is a popular performer and toastmaster at SF conventions. He's written reviews for SF magazines, and since 1995 an op-ed column for Canada's Globe and Mail. An aficionado of Robert A. Heinlein, Robinson provided the introduction to Heinlein’s recently rediscovered first novel, For Us, The Living (2004), and will write Variable Star from detailed notes written by Heinlein in 1955. He lives in British Columbia with his wife.

Excerpts from the interview:

“I’ve always been a weirdo. From the age of about ten I was six foot one and 120 pounds, with Coke-bottle glasses. They skipped me through third grade because they said I was too smart to be there, and in consequence I spent every single year of my educational career emotionally retarded compared to those around me. And since I was a November baby, the net result was I was always two years younger than anyone I was in school with. I’ve always been the outsider, the guy who laughed at things other people didn’t think were funny.

“I spent a lot of time reading -- thank god for the very first book I ever read all by myself, the first with no pictures in it. My mom sent me down to the library when I was six and they brought me Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein. When I was done, I went back and said, ‘You got more of this?’ The librarian said, ‘Why yes, young man,’ and sent me to a place where all the books had a hydrogen atom impaled by a V2 on the spine. Once I started writing, Robert Heinlein was always my template. Another vivid memory is my grandmother, when I was about seven, taking me through the streets of Manhattan to Mecca: the place where Superman Comics were published. She brought me upstairs, and Julie Schwartz came out from behind his desk and personally handed me a copy of Action Comics with the first ever Superman story in it. When I met him 30 years later in fandom, I had to tell him how large a memory that was. I was a major comics fan, and nobody else was except for maybe two or three of us. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a comic-book artist when I grew up. I can still draw caricatures and stuff, and one or two of my books even have a couple in them (pathetic ones).”


“If America had not turned its back on folk music, I would probably never have become a science fiction writer. My chosen profession was James Taylor -- that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up -- but just as I started getting good enough to get hired for gigs, the bottom fell out of the folk music market. In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, for a while there seemed some danger it would catch on. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed: America, in its wisdom, turned instead to disco for musical sustenance, and I found myself out of a job. Nowadays, from time to time we’ll gig around town, semi-professionally. There’s a couple of clubs that still pay a folksinger a few bucks. I won’t be able to stop doing it -- it’s the most fun you can have without laughing.”


“I’ve tried to pin down what Callahan is about, and I keep coming back to tolerance. From the very beginning, I’ve been talking about tolerance of the weird, the strange. Callahan’s is a place where no matter how bent you are, as long as there is no malice in you, you’re welcome. All my life I’ve been weird. I can vividly remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was six, trying to get across the concept: ‘Mom, other people aren’t like us. They’re all stupid.’ She said, ‘Yes, dear, but you’re not supposed to let them know. They’ll be very angry if they find out, so you want to look as much like them as you can.’”


“I’ve noticed in the last five or ten years I’m reading less science fiction and more mystery, and as a writer I’m trying to gracefully segue into mystery, crime, detective -- whatever you want to call it. I’m working on one tentatively called Of Three Minds. Basically, over here we’ve got a telepath who’s so sensitive he can barely stand to go near anybody; on this end we’ve got a cop who needs the information the telepath has; and the narrator is a sort of Speaker to Cops, who telepaths can stand being around, but can more or less communicate with police officers. Alfred Bester set the pace for all of us with The Demolished Man; talk about science fiction mystery -- there’s the bar.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the February 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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