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