There is nothing which has been contrived by man by which so much happiness has been produced as by a good tavern or inn. -- Samuel Johnson
With that quote begins Spider Robinson's omnibus collection of short stories entitled The Callahan Chronicals. Included in this audiobook are the collections Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Time Travelers Strictly Cash, and Callahan's Secret. Time Travelers is not included complete - in the original paperback, some non-Callahan stories appeared that are not collected here.
The stories center around a bunch of very good folks that spend quite a bit of time at Callahan's Place, a bar owned and tended by Mike Callahan. In the author's words, Callahan's is "an environment in which shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased, and the puns really suck." It's a place that a person can bring his or her troubles, and find people that are willing to listen - and believe. A typical story finds the patrons enjoying each other's company (often tossing horrible puns at each other) when someone enters and tells his or her story. This person is changed by the experience of sharing his or her troubles.
Some of the stories are marginally science fiction, but most involve some kind of science fiction idea engendered in one of the characters. Telepaths, time travellers, extra-terrestrials, and even Spider Robinson himself are among the bar's visitors. Robinson is able to reach an emotional depth not often seen in science fiction. Each story is touching in its own way, and they often reach peaks of joy and depths of pain, all within minutes of audio. In short, these stories pack an emotional punch. I found them difficult to listen to one after the other, as a person can only feel so much. They would be better heard individually, with a bit of time to digest and reflect in-between. I plan to revisit them in this way - they are worth listening to again, and are worth the pause.
Barrett Whitener is exceptional here. He understands the material and adds just the right touch in nearly every story. No easy task with these touching stories. A job very well done.
At the beginning of the audio, there are three introductions. The first is titled "Backward", written by Spider Robinson for the entire volume. Next is
"Spider Robinson: The SF Writer as Empath" by Ben Bova, which provides a look into the life of an editor as he describes Spider's first sale to Analog. Then comes a forward written by Robinson for the original version of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon. All of them were interesting, and I'm glad Blackstone left them in there.