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Robinson, Spider

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-    ) US-born author who became a Canadian Landed Immigrant in 1975, married to Jeanne Robinson from 1975 until her death in 2010. His first story, "The Guy with the Eyes" in Analog for February 1973, inaugurated the long-running Callahan series of Club Stories, which continued into the twenty-first century. He has sometimes written tales as by B D Wyatt. The first few years of his career were honour-laden. He shared with Lisa Tuttle the 1974 John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer; topped the 1977 Locus Award poll for Best Critic, mainly for his Galaxy Bookshelf column for Galaxy June 1975-September 1977; received a 1977 novella Hugo for the magazine version – as "By Any Other Name" (November 1976 Analog) – of the first four chapters of his first novel, Telempath (1976); and won both Hugo and Nebula in 1978, along with his wife and collaborator Jeanne Robinson, for "Stardance" (March 1977 Analog), which became the nucleus of Stardance (1979) with Robinson (see below for comments). In 1983 he won another Hugo, for "Melancholy Elephants" (June 1982 Analog). At this high point of his career, his self-conscious punchy optimism about the human condition and his adroit use of generic materials to express that optimism seemed to have established him as a legitimate heir to Robert A Heinlein, a writer he deeply admired, and whose eight page posthumous outline of a novel he much later expanded as Variable Star (2006) "with" Heinlein. Telempath, a complicated story mostly set in a Post-Holocaust New York after a decimating virus-caused Pandemic has destroyed civilization, cleverly promulgates a sense that the surviving humans, in conjunction with the Telepathic Muskies – gaseous beings imperceptible before the plague – can earn cohabitation with a vast empathic net of species.

From around this time, Robinson's career has seemed twofold: Callahan; plus anything else. The Callahan sequence makes use of one of the central functions of the Club Story, which is to reassure both participants and readers that they co-inhabit something like a real community, as in the television series Cheers. The wide range of Callahan tales – sf and fantasy predominating – does exactly that, revealing human, Alien and even Robot frailties and foibles while simultaneously affirming the group – a grouping and venue that clearly represent an idealized vision of sf Fandom. The series comprises Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (coll 1977), Time Travelers Strictly Cash (coll 1981) and Callahan's Secret (coll 1986), most of the stories from these three volumes being assembled as Callahan and Company: The Compleat Chronicles of the Crosstime Saloon (dated 1987 but 1988) [see Checklist for further details]. Callahan's Lady (coll 1989), set prior to the main series in a whorehouse run by Callahan's wife, assembles similar tales; further titles include Kill the Editor (1991; exp vt Lady Slings the Booze 1992), also set in a whorehouse with more hearts of gold in evidence, The Callahan Touch (1993), Off the Wall at Callahan's (coll 1994), Callahan's Legacy (coll 1996), Callahan's Key (2000), which features Nikola Tesla, and Callahan's Con (coll 2003). Robinson's Club Stories differ from some older models mainly through the amount of action that occurs in and around the saloon itself, so that their ultimate effect is, at times, complex, and extends far beyond the normal remit of the kind of Club Story represented in general by the Callahan sequence.

What might be called Robinson's other career contains, in fact, his best work. The Stardance sequence – comprising Stardance (1979; initial novella only, cut 1997), Starseed (1991), both assembled as The Star Dancers (omni 1997), plus Starmind (1995), all three assembled as The Stardance Trilogy (omni 2006), all titles with Jeanne Robinson – presents three protagonists whose relationship to the Arts defines their lives and careers, and which cumulatively gives Homo sapiens an opportunity to achieve Transcendence in a galactic arena. In the first volume, a dancer too big for Earth work re-creates her career in a Space Station, where her zero-gravity dancing attracts the attention of Aliens making First Contact; in the second, another dancer establishes a symbiontic relationship with a second alien species; in the third, the galaxy opens wide, though some with roots on Earth find the promised transcendence inhumane. Throughout, it is argued, at points movingly, that dance, being wordless but full of enacted content, may provide an ideal form of Communication with Extraterrestrial life.

The Lifeforce sequence – comprising Mindkiller: A Novel of the Near Future (1982) and Time Pressure (1987), both assembled as Deathkiller (omni 1997), plus Lifehouse (1997), all three assembled as The Lifehouse Trilogy (omni 2007) – complexly joins together three protagonists who variously suffer from Amnesia, Time Travel disorientation and advanced forms of addiction into what might be described as something like a gestalt, as humanity, through them, as in the earlier sequence, may have a chance of Transcendence via Alien interventions into a fulfilling Posthuman reality. The crime- and computer-ridden world of Mindkiller is followed by an invocation of 1970s Nova Scotia, seen through a romantic film; the third volume ties together the whole as profound recovered memories unveil the future to come. Robinson's third novel sequence, the Very series comprising Very Bad Deaths (2004) and Very Hard Choices (2008), less interestingly combines soft-noir tropes (including a serial killer), sf protagonists, including a Telepath, and the Politics of Paranoia. Overall, an increasing insistence on a style that seems increasingly burdened with Heinleinesque rhetorical tricks gives Robinson's sequences, as they progress, a sense of belatedness.

Individual novels include Night of Power (1985), more controlled than some of the longer work, which aroused some negative response for its depiction of a Black-power revolt in New York. His stories are generally sharp and show considerable control. Collections include Antinomy (coll 1980); Melancholy Elephants (coll 1984; with one story dropped and two added, rev 1985), his only book to be initially released by the feeble Canadian publishing industry; True Minds (coll 1990); User Friendly (coll 1998), By Any Other Name (coll 2001) and God Is an Iron and Other Stories (coll 2002). [JC]

see also: Adventure; Astounding Science-Fiction; Canada; Destinies; Galaxy Science Fiction; Music; Robert A Heinlein Award; Skylark Award; Supernatural Creatures.

Spider Robinson

born New York: 24 November 1948





  • Stardance (New York: The Dial Press/James Wade, 1979) with Jeanne Robinson [fixup: first appeared as "Stardance" (March 1977 Analog) and as "Stardance II" (September-November 1978 Analog): Stardance: hb/Larry Kresek]
    • Stardance (New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 1997) with Jeanne Robinson [novella: cut version of the above: containing original novella only: first appeared as "Stardance" (March 1977 Analog): hb/Bob Eggleton]
  • Starseed (New York: Ace Books, 1991) with Jeanne Robinson [first appeared 1 June-29 November Pulphouse: Stardance: hb/Michael Herring]
  • Starmind (New York: Ace Books, 1995) with Jeanne Robinson [first appeared August-November 1994 Analog: Stardance: hb/Michael Herring]



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