Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.
— Callahan’s Law from The Callahan Chronicals by Spider Robinson
It’s a difficult line to walk between gloriously corny, and heart-wrenchingly tragic, but Spider Robinson can walk it. In his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon series, Spider spins the tale of a group of misfit barflies, who have come together across time, space, and alternate dimensions to share their stories of woe, and find solace in each other’s company. They also perpetrate the sort of puns that are rotten enough to get you banned from any reputable establishment. It’s a game, a sort of one-upmanship to see who can elicit the longest, deepest groan.
Among the patrons are Jake Stonebender, a folk singer whose wife and child died because he decided to save some money fixing his own brakes, Pyotr, a vampire designated driver who feeds on the bar patrons so that he gets drunk, and the patrons wake up with no hangovers, and Mickey Finn, a humanoid alien who was supposed to destroy the Earth, but then, with help from his newfound friends, didn’t. The owner of the bar himself, Mike Callahan, has his own secrets, but I won’t spoil those for you. Just don’t cause any trouble, or Mike will tell Fast Eddie to knock you out with his black jack. There’s a reason they call him Fast Eddie, and it ain’t just the way he tickles the ivories on the piano.
If I’ve conflated any of the book’s plot with the plot of the 1997 point n’ click adventure game, my apologies, but the game is so well written and acted (not to mention beautifully illustrated) that I consider it to be canonical in the series. It exists in that category of video games that I wish I could play again for the first time. In my opinion, this may be the best jumping on point for the series, and if you play it, you’ll be nothing less than transported. The environments are fully immersive, providing a panoramic tableau of rich, detailed animation, as you see in the screenshot above. And yes, you can interact with all of those characters, and they all have something snarky, witty, punny, or heartfelt to say.
And that’s the core of the Callahan Chronicals. Life is a tragic comedy in the Callahan verse, just as it is in ours. But in Callahan’s Saloon, they recognize the beauty and fragility of life in ways that only an alien’s perspective could imagine. So what does Spider mean when he writes “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy”?
I think he means the same sort of thing that comedian Patton Oswalt does when he says, quoting his late wife, Michelle McNamara: “It’s chaos; be kind.” The world is full of hostile forces that, ultimately, will kill everyone you ever loved, and destroy everything you’ve ever known. Our only antidote is kindness, humor, and listening to each other.