Reading CALLAHAN'S KEY is like hanging out with someone's dad. Someone's amazingly tolerant, cool, techno-hippie dad who's out to save the world, to be specific. Which makes sense, because Jake Stonebender, the narrator of the Callahan series, is now the father of young Erin, a baby whose prenatal exposure has given her a fairly adult brain.
Any fan of Spider Robinson is more than familiar with the Callahan's cast: Fast Eddie, Long-Drink, the Lucky Duck, Tesla, Doc Webster, Ralph von Wau-Wau, the whole gang. So the question when a new Callahan book comes out is whether the newcomer measures up to the old favorites. In the case of CALLAHAN'S KEY, the answer is a resounding yes. Go right out and buy this book right now. And read it. Right now. It's that good. If you're not already a fan of the Callahan books, you have an amazing treat in store, although your trip to the bookstore will be somewhat more expensive. CALLAHAN'S KEY is number eleven in the series, and every single one of them is worth reading.
CALLAHAN'S KEY is a little different from its predecessors: this is Jake's book. Instead of having a narrator who's on the outskirts of most of the action, this one gets to the marrow of Jake's actions and reactions. And it's about time. Jake is, by now, a well-developed if non-traditional hero who deserves his moment in the sun.
While Mary's Place - the latest incarnation of Callahan's bar - has closed down due to bureaucratic difficulties, the Callahan's crowd can't be kept down for long. By the middle of this book, the entire gang is traveling down to Key West in a motley assortment of school-buses, hell-bent on saving the world. Jake's task is to get everybody there more or less safe and sane, and to make sure they (and we) have a good time along the way. Oh yes, and to figure out how to get the group telepathic, and to pull himself out of a deep depression, and to keep raising the inestimable Erin. Underachiever. There are stops along the way to visit Travis McGee's old stomping grounds, explore Disneyland, and watch a shuttle take off from Cape Canaveral. (The shuttle passage was one of the best pieces of descriptive writing I've ever seen.) The crowd picks up members along the way, but to tell who they are would be to spoil the fun.
The trip is the best part, but the results are enough fun to make the book worth finishing. Jake and the others end up having to figure out how to stop Nicky Tesla's death ray from obliterating the Earth and taking the universe with it on a thousand-to-one stroke of bad luck. As with most Callahan books, by the time you get to the destruction of the Earth, your mind is already reeling with the weirdness so much that energy-weapons destroying planets almost seems normal. It wouldn't be spoiling the book to point out that things don't work out quite as planned but that the main characters do not end up dead in a pile of rubble. Getting from point A to point B is always the fun, especially in a Spider Robinson book. The puns are terrible, the characters are loving, and the fate of the world is in the hands of a pack of drunk, stoned, and just plain naturally silly misfits. What more could you really ask for in a book?
(This review originally appeared in Zealot.)