Callahan's Crosstime Saloon

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased; thus do we refute entropy."
—Callahan's Law

A series of short stories and novels by author Spider Robinson, which has inspired a video game, a roleplaying adaptation and even a long-standing online roleplaying newsgroup. While the title saloon gets its share of mundane customers, it's more easily found if you need to be there. Most of the regulars are ordinary people scarred by tragedies and hardships, finding comfort and joy in their shared company and pun competitions.

The bar also has its share of unusual regulars and visitors, including an android built by aliens bent on world domination, time travelers, a vampire that refuses to prey on humans, talking animals and a teleporting cat.

Books in this series

  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (1977)
  • Time Travelers Strictly Cash (1981)
  • Callahan's Secret (1986)
  • Callahan's Lady (1989)
  • Lady Slings the Booze (1992)
  • The Callahan Touch (1993)
  • Callahan's Legacy (1996)
  • Callahan's Key (2000)
  • Callahan's Con (2003)

Tropes used in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon include:
  • Author Avatar: The narrator Jake Stonebender is revealed to be an alternate dimension version of Robinson.
  • Author Filibuster: Quite rare, but Spider lets one or two slip by as the series carries on. For example, Lady Slings the Booze has one such digression where Mike Callahan talks at length why rapists, instead of imprisonment, should just be raped in turn... by someone like Mike; and a later discussion about how killing pacifists should only be a misdemeanor.[1] To be fair, considering the company, having the Callahans stop and chat about these sorts of things doesn't feel as out of place as it might in another story.
  • Banana Republic: Tom Hauptman was imprisoned by one for ten years.
  • Band of Brothels: Lady Sally's
  • The Bartender: Mike Callahan, and then Jake Stonebender. Tom Hauptman sometimes fills in when they need a break.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Inverted: Squish's saucer is smaller on the inside because they haven't mastered the technology yet. One wonders why they bother installing it.
  • Blessed with Suck: The precog in "Fivesight" can only foresee unpleasant events... and he can't prevent them from happening, only mitigate the effects somewhat. Fittingly enough, his name is Cass Anders.
  • Born Lucky: The Lucky Duck, although in his case it's not good luck or bad luck... just weird luck.
  • Centipede's Dilemma: Dink Fogerty is defeated using this technique in the story titled "The Centipede's Dilemma".
  • Chosen Family: The regulars. Starting with Tom Hauptman, a preacher who lost his faith when his wife died who found a new family among the bar's regulars, most of the regulars are as close as family by the climactic story.
  • City of Weirdos: Callahan tells the story of waking up after an epic week-long bender naked in Central Park, fleeing on a stolen police horse. He gets all the way to Brooklyn by wrapping himself in a plaid horse blanket and yelling "Attack of the Horseclans! Coming soon from United Artists" as necessary.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: After being arrested, if Al Phee tries to make another unauthorized time jump, he'll be stricken with permanent BO.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: All of the patrons give an epic one to Tom Hauptmann at the end of "The Time-Traveler", persuading him that life is worth living.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: Lampshaded in Callahan's Secret, where a rookie to the New York City bomb squad specifically thinks "If he's running, I need to get the hell out of here!" when he sees his superior, Sergeant Noah Gonzalez, take off running in the middle of a defusing operation.
  • Dumb Muscle: Tony Donuts, in Callahan's Lady, a thug of enormous physical prowess who is so dumb that he's almost impossible to con.
  • Feghoot: Tall Tales Night.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: How Tom Hauptman feels after ten years in prison with no contact with the outside world in "The Time-Traveler".
  • Fun with Palindromes: In The Callahan Touch, every chapter title is a palindrome. Notably, the chapter in which Nikola Tesla visits the bar glories in the title, "I, Madam, I Made Radio. So I Dared. Am I Mad? Am I?"
  • Gadget Watches: The watch that can stop time in Lady Slings the Booze.
  • Good Guy Bar
  • Hard on Soft Science: Averted hard. The only science in the second short story of the series, "The Time-Traveler", is sociology.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: The Cockroaches.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Punday at Callahan's.

Folks who come into the place for the first time on a Tuesday evening have been known to flee screaming into the night, leaving full pitchers of beer behind in their haste to be elsewhere.

  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Michael Finn is actually a cyborg sent to evaluate how dangerous the Earth is so that an alien race can decide whether or not to invade it. After an evening at Callahan's, he decides he wants to save them, and asks the patrons to destroy him so he can't automatically report in, since he can't destroy himself. They settle for giving him a Mickey Finn (as hinted by as the name he gives), which leaves him in no condition to make his report.
  • Immune to Bullets: The good guys, for a change. All of the bar's patrons who have been protected by Mickey Finn are immune to gunfire, nukes and getting wet when it rains.
    • OTOH, the Required Secondary Powers are a bitch. It only neutralizes lethal trauma, so as not to leave one with a case of congenital insensitivity to pain. That means that if someone attacks to maim, they can do it as long as no single blow is lethal!
    • Likewise, immunity to nukes is limited to the blast forces and radiation. It's still possible to be trapped in debris and just burn, as Noah Gonzalez found when the "immunity to nukes" clause was tested.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The winner of the "Punday Night" contests is often celebrated with everyone fleeing, screaming in mock terror, into the night. And you could argue that the entire series is based very firmly on incredibly lame puns.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: Although the bar itself is perfectly normal, it's called a Probability Nexus by a timecop and its patrons come from all over space and time.
  • Levitating Lotus Position: Jake spies Mike Callahan doing this behind the bar. It is one of the first indications that there is a lot more to Mike Callahan than meets the eye.
  • Love At First Note: For Jake and Zoey, it's love at first jam session.
  • Meaningful Name: Many characters' names contain punning hints to their roles in the story.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Invoked with great force in the first story featuring telepathy, but averted with every subsequent use... primarily due to it being practised by True Companions who've shared all their most intimate secrets over several metric $#!+loads of booze. That's right. Beer can turn The Power of Friendship into telepathic communion.
  • Mirror Chemistry: One story has a "Mirror Earth" with right-handed proteins in the place of our left-handed ones. The protagonists eventually discover that this inverts the perceived quality of liquor: our swill is their Wonderbooze and vice versa.
  • Moral Dissonance: Despite empathy and acceptance being the defining principles of Callahan's, a woman in Callahan's Legacy is treated as a joke because she's ugly and doesn't speak English. While this behavior does incur a hefty punishment, it's a couple books before Jake actually acknowledges that he was at fault. It's implied that this had a lot to do with Jake being in a depressive state at the time.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Quite a few guests and even regulars at the bar are homages to various science fiction writers: Al Phee is Alfred Bester, Josie Bauer is implied to be the (time-traveling future) daughter of Philip Jose Farmer, Gentleman John Killian is outright stated to be John Brunner, etc.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Pyotr the vampire is the bar's designated driver. For his services, the patrons donate him some of their blood each night.
  • Playing with Puppets: A villain in Callahan's Lady uses a Mind Control Device to make people do disgusting and embarrassing things for her own amusement.
  • Pungeon Master: Nearly all the regulars, but Doc Webster especially.
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Rachel in "A Voice is Heard in Ramah...". No explanation is offered; she just is.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The Meddler in "The Law of Conservation of Pain".
  • Shout-Out: Robinson embeds many shout-outs to fellow SF&F writers, not the least of which is narrator's Jake's last name, which is a reference to Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The way things are resolved in "The Guy with the Eyes".
  • The Slow Path: Tom Hauptman is referred to as a time traveler since he missed the ten years between 1962 and 1972 while imprisoned and has been hit by massive culture shock.
  • The Smurfette Principle: In "A Voice is Heard in Ramah...", Rachel is the only woman who has ever come to Callahan's, and much is made of the fact. Soon averted, however: by the time of "Fivesight", a few years later, female patrons are unremarkable.
  • Stable Time Loop: The true purpose of the Callahans' presence in New York from 1945-1985: Mike and his family (and, it's hinted, other agents) are making sure that certain catastrophic events that by all rights should have happened, but didn't, on the timeline to their far-future Utopia stay not-having-happened.
  • Talking Animal: Ralph Von Vau Vau is a genius mutant German Shepherd who works in talk radio.
  • That Satisfying Crunch: At Callahan's, making a toast and pitching your glass into the fireplace can be one of the most cathartic actions you'll ever undertake.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: In the first Callahan story, the regulars flatly refuse to kill Mickey Finn even though a) he's asking them to and b) he's going to destroy the Earth if they don't (eventually, they come up with a third option, but if they hadn't...). Later stories ease up on this.
  • Time and Relative Dimensions In Space: In Callahan's Con, a distraught Zoey uses a time machine to travel into the future and make sure her daughter is all right. Thing is, this time machine apparently makes you account for where Earth will be in its orbit around the sun, and neglecting to do this, she ends up drifting in space.
    • That book says there are three kinds of time travel. One (mentioned above), the earliest invented, doesn't adjust for the Earth's movement. The other types do: the second (used by the Time Police) still requires machinery; the third and most advanced (called 'Transiting') uses no detectable apparatus. Very few people in the stories can do it: only the Callahans, Nikola Tesla, and in later books, Jake and Zoey's super-mega-genius daughter Erin.
  • Time Police: Josie Bauer.
  • Tropacabana: The series takes place almost entirely within the walls of Callahan's Place on Long Island, NY or its Spiritual Successor "Mary's Place", located in Key West, Florida.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Lady Sally's House is one of the nicest places to work in New York: great salary, nice benefits (including three months' paid vacation) and a security staff that's very good at throwing out creeps before they can do too much damage. That said, the place is something of a Weirdness Magnet, so every once in a while, a real threat will find its way through the door and have to be dealt with ...
  • The Unpronounceable: Mickey Finn's real name apparently sounds like "Txffu Mpwfs".
    • Somewhat subverted in that Mary Callahan can pronounce his name perfectly.
  • Utopia: The far-future, far-distant planet of Harmony, Mike Callahan's original home. How far away, and how far in the future? Well, the light from Harmony's star hasn't yet reached Earth, and humanity has advanced so far that "[T]hey don't even have sad people."

Mike Callahan: Well, when I come from, nobody's hungry, nobody's angry.

  • We Didn't Start the Führer: He walks into the bar (under a different name, of course), and becomes "The Guy They Couldn't Help".
  • Weirdness Magnet: It initially appears to be a magnificent but otherwise ordinary bar that just happens to draw alien observers, talking animals, and darts masters who cheat with telekinesis.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer: Mass-telepathy in some of the later works.
    • And even lampshaded in Callahan's Key: Jake says something to the effect of 'it's our only trick, so we might as well try it'.

Tropes in the game (which really should have its own page) include:

  • Combinatorial Explosion: Averted in the game. Nearly everything has a unique description.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Bureau of Unnecessary Repetition and Pointless Redundancy.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Lampshaded by Noah in the game when he notes how often people are injured by others trying to drag them out of a wrecked car before the "inevitable" explosion.
  • Minion with an F In Evil: In the game, Jake has to join a criminal organization to get what he's after. He's so bad at it though, that the guy he hassles for not paying protection money has to talk him through administering a beating. Even then, he can't manage anything worse than third-grade bullying techniques.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Sasha from the game, who demonstrates that it's a traditional greeting among his people to offer your wrist for a small sampling of blood.
  • Rapid-Fire Comedy: The game.
  • Slipping a Mickey: In the game, you have to sedate Al Phee with a concoction made from either pure morphine or the best chocolate in existence because his out-of-control mindreading is driving him insane.

  1. The reasoning is a bit more fleshed out than that, but that's the ultimate gist.