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April, 2008 : Interview:

The Spider Robinson Interview

Channel Surfing with the Folksinger of the Gods

Spider Robinson is one of the most underrated and unheralded science fiction writers of our day. He is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974. He won two Hugo awards for best novella (1977) and for his short story Melancholy Elephants in 1983. In 1977, he won a Nebula award for best novella, Stardance. His writing is fluid, taut and downright enjoyable.

From his stand-alone novels such as Telempath, Night of Power and the recently published Variable Star, to his Deathkiller trilogy, Stardance trilogy, and his signature Callahan series, few can match his talent and creativity. Simply stated, his novels are some of the best reads around. I remember when I first talked to Spider Robinson in 1997 or 1998. I was working on an assignment for a mainstream, pop culture magazine about a new fad called e-publishing that was taking fire on the still-blossoming Internet. My task was to interview several prominent writers from various facets of the industry and ascertain their opinion on e-publishing, web-based magazines, ebooks and such. At the time, Spider was rather against e-publishing, ezines or even having any sort of presence on the Internet. Now, of course, a web presence is almost a necessity, and Spider's own site can be found here.

A Canadian citizen, he was born in the Bronx, New York and educated at the State University of New York where he earned a Bachelors of Arts degree in English. He has lived the past thirty years in Nova Scotia and the beautiful but rainy British Columbia. He sold his first short story in 1972 to Galaxy Science Fiction. Not only was this an important step in his writing career, but this particular story was set in a certain cosmic tavern called Callahan's Place. It was this seed that germinated Spider's bestselling series.

I was glad to have the chance to interview Spider again. I wanted to find out what made him tick, what his views were on various aspects of life such as faith and science, life and culture, racism and social progression, the origins of life, and Soto Zen Buddhism. Inescapably, the topic of music came up; Paul McCartney, Spider's love of folk music and his collaboration with David Crosby were all focus points.

Michael Lohr: You've been a huge supporter and defender of Robert A. Heinlein for many years now. Was the chance to work on the Variable Star novel project using Heinlein's extensive notes a dream of a lifetime?

Spider Robinson: I think it was the dream of my last ten lifetimes, at least. I keep a copy by the bedside because there are still mornings I wake up and think, like Bennie Noakes in Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar, "Christ, what an imagination I've got!" Then I open my eyes...and Variable Star is really there. I still prefer not to die—I feel strongly about it, in fact—but I'm ready, now.

Well, okay: once I've jammed with Paul McCartney and shaken hands with the Dalai Lama, I will be. That's a short list to have left, at age 58. I'm a lucky cat.

ML: So, tell us about your other new projects. What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

SR: Bless your heart, spleen, and islets of Langerhans for asking. Just now I'm racing deadline (and coughing blood) on Very Hard Choices, the second novel in a new series that began with Very Bad Deaths—which just happens to be my latest novel to be published in paperback, by Baen Books. All the books in the series will have titles that begin with "very" because hey, everybody needs a marketing gimmick. They'll be set in and around Vancouver, and will all involve my Odd Trio: Zudie the reluctant telepath, Russell the old hippie who's the only one Zudie can stand to be near, and Nika the cop who needs them both.

My specific intention with the title of this first book was to try and cue my regular readers that it is something of a departure for me—so they won't be too shocked. It is not a sunny upbeat Callahan's Place romp. There's some seriously dark, twisted stuff in it, although hardly any of it takes place onstage. Someone had said of my work that I liked my own characters too much to ever write a real villain: that the few villains I have created usually turn out to have been good guys in disguise or something. There was just enough truth in that to sting, and Very Bad Deaths is my response: it features a villain so creepy it took me months to scrub him out of my head afterward. Now I know why Stephen King and Lawrence Block get those big bucks.

Now, if only all the Stephen King and Lawrence Block fans go buy Very Bad Deaths, so I can find out what one does with those big bucks...

On a different front, Blackstone Audiobooks has just released Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo, read aloud by me—on CDs, cassettes, or a single mp3 disc. It was, literally, the first book I ever read in my life (as discussed in the aftmatter of Variable Star), so you can perhaps imagine my deep joy.

I've read my own Callahan's Legacy and Very Bad Deaths for Blackstone. As a matter of fact, thanks to the latter, I was a finalist for that industry's equivalent of our Hugo Award, the annual Audie Award, for my reading of Callahan's Legacy. Barrett Whitener, who has read all the other Callahan titles released so far by Blackstone, is a past Audie winner too. And just last month I won AudioFile Magazine's Earphones Award.

I've finished recording all of The Stardance Trilogy for Blackstone and Variable Star is already out.

I do all my recording within a ten-minute walk of my home, here on Bowen Island, at Rob Bailey's remarkable Treehouse Studio. It's a full state-of-the-art 5.1 surround professional recording studio in the woods, with the view God wanted, looking out over Howe Sound toward the mountains of mainland British Columbia...and a microphone that makes me sound like Walter Cronkite.

In fact, I went out and bought one of my own (an Apex 460), and am now in my 35th week as—of all things—a podcaster! Spider On The Web offers a mix of science fiction, science fact, science speculation, science opinion...and some of the very best music you've never heard of, in all genres, from stars and unknowns alike. It's available free at either Spider on the Web or the iTunes Store.

ML: Of the multitude of excellent novels you've written, which did you enjoy writing the most? Which one do you look back on and say, "yes, that was exactly what I wanted to say"? Which novel were you the most dissatisfied with?

SR: Which of your children is the ugly one? The best I can tell you is which took the least time and effort, and which the most. Lifehouse almost fell out of me, so fast I could barely keep up on the keyboard. Time Pressure took nearly three years: I was stalled for two years over the burning question, what the hell happens next? One day I had the happy inspiration, why not kill off the narrator? An idea I stole from a short story my mother, Evelyn Meade, wrote in high school, before she met my father. God, do I wish I still had a copy!

ML: You stated that you were influenced by John D. MacDonald's mystery novels. Was your sci-fi mystery novel, Very Bad Deaths, a result of this influence? Have you ever been tempted to write a pure mystery novel?

SR: Very Bad Deaths basically was my pure mystery novel...fortunately, I managed to get away with it. The science fictional content is minimal: by the standards of today, with TV shows like Medium considered mainstream, telepathy barely qualifies a story as science fiction anymore. There's enough creepiness in it to qualify it as a horror novel, except that little of it takes place onstage. The point of the book is solving the mystery.

And yes, I was influenced by most of my favorite mystery writers, but particularly by John D, Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, and Lee Child. I really love all those guys—but let's face it: their heroes are utter, total, unalloyed superman fantasies. Travis, Spenser, Elvis, Reacher—is there anything they can't do, any man they can't beat, any woman they can't have, any challenge they can't meet without raising a sweat? I wanted to create a mystery adventure hero more like me, one who can't run a block or change a tire without serious danger of landing in a hospital, and therefore is forced to solve his problems by thinking his way out of them instead of just finding the right guy to hit.

I also kind of liked the idea of an adventure hero who's basically a grumpy middle-aged fart, convinced that the pot was better back in the Sixties (He's wrong).

ML: What connection does musical legend David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young fame), have to Very Bad Deaths?

SR: Voluntary. He finished a copy, sat down at his Powerbook, googled up my website and used the e-address there to send me a fan letter that would have been very nice if it had come in from anybody. Coming from him, it literally paralyzed me. It took me several minutes to get up from my desk and go tell Jeanne what had just happened. I've been a Crosby fan since the first Byrds album, and the month doesn't go by that I don't take a crack at David's songs "Everybody's Been Burned" and "Triad" on my guitar.

I wrote back, told David I was writing a Robert Heinlein novel, and he flipped. He's as big a Robert fan as me. He asked if there was any way he could help. "Funny you should ask," I said. "I wrote some song lyrics into Chapter One that don't have a tune..." "Got your back," he said. And meant it: shortly a new G4 Powerbook arrived with an iSight camera so we could write together by videochat. I mean, really...

You can hear both of us being interviewed about Robert Heinlein together here. If anyone wants to write to my website address, and ask, I'll email them an mp3 of me singing my proposed final draft of our song to David at the end of that interview. The "Yeah," you can hear at the end is him.

I credit him with the first-ever science fiction rock song that was not a novelty comedy song like "Purple People Eater"—that being his classic "Wooden Ships." It was first recorded by the Jefferson Airplane...and Robert Heinlein owned all the Airplane's albums. His friend Ted Sturgeon lived literally next door to David for awhile. Yet Robert and David never met.

ML: It seems odd to me that as we walk upon the cusp of potentially the greatest age in human existence, science fiction has taken a rather inexplicable backseat to fantasy in popular culture, novel wise. I remember Tom Clancy once said that he loves reading science fiction but would personally never write it himself because science fiction writers do not make any money. I am not sure why this downturn has occurred, but I personally feel that science fiction will eventually make a comeback, and ascend to become one of the premiere sources of fiction again. What is your opinion on this situation?

SR: I did a short speech on this subject when I was Toastmaster of the World Science Fiction Convention for the second time, in 2003 in Toronto. It's too depressing to revisit. You're right: for some reason today's young readers would rather read about wizards and warriors than interplanetary and interstellar adventure: they prefer not to think any thoughts or imagine any scenarios their grandparents didn't. Phooey on that gross technology junk, which has made it possible for them to complain for fully three times as many years as their grandparents got, all of them spent in circumstances J.P. Morgan would have considered lavish.

That's part of why I decided I had to take the Variable Star job, even though I knew I'd get pasted for it by at least a few critics: because it was a starflight story. Because it returned to one of Robert's most passionate themes, now overlooked: the urgent necessity to get at least some of our race's eggs stashed off this fragile basket of a planet while there's still time. Listen to the audio clips of him at the end of my interview with Croz.

The more I wrote about travel to a star 85 light years away, the more I regained my own faith, my own lifelong conviction and hope and dream and prayer that one day my grandchildren will do just that, because it is in the nature of monkeys to keep climbing out of sheer curiosity until they've reached the topmost branch.

Meanwhile, while I was writing it...Paul Allen, Richard Branson, and Burt Rutan were winning the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for successful orbital flight and return in October 2004, and announcing plans to create an entire fleet of ships for space tourism for Branson's Virgin Galactic. And none of the X-prize losers have quit; they're still out there working.

And just a year or so ago, the first Heinlein Prize, half a million dollars, was finally awarded by his estate, to Dr. Peter Diamandis—who was himself one of the founders of the famous Ansari X-Prize.

All around the world, a multitrillion-dollar industry is in the process of birthing itself, and establishing itself, and shaping its future, which is our future. It has been all along, while science fiction readership has been falling....because the smart money doesn't read a whole lot of fiction. It tends to read bottom lines—and space's bottom line looks very good.

I just hope they can find enough engineers—that is, kids who grew up liking Lazarus Long and Kip Russell more than Gandalf and Harry Potter.

I'm contributing what I can. Half of whatever profits are realized from Variable Star go to the Heinlein Estate. Specifically to help keep the Heinlein Prize fund topped off—so that the executor, famous space-law attorney Arthur Dula of Texas, will be able to keep handing out half-a-megabuck to pioneers of commercial manned spaceflight, in the hope that Robert's dream will be realized.

It had better be. This is our last wakeup call. Now or never. No more chances after this next one. This earth is not enough. It can never be enough. We bust out now...or we die here, root and branch, once we've finished gnawing the place bare.

Sir Stephen Hawking said it too, last year: we must get off this ball of mud, and reach for the stars, or die. No third choice. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill summed it up over thirty years ago: "We gotta get out of this place—or it's the last thing we'll never do."

ML: Could you explain to the readers what exactly is Theodore Sturgeon's definition of a good science fiction story? Positively speaking, I've heard critics before describe your works as the archetype of this principle.

SR: Exactly? No. The closest I can paraphrase from memory is, "a science fiction story is one which could not have happened without its speculative science element." And I'm sure that's not accurate.

I always liked Damon Knight's "science fiction is what I am pointing to when I say the words, 'That is science fiction.'" But it's hard to top Ben Bova's marvelously confusion- dispelling: "Science fiction is what a science fiction editor will pay cash for." That's all I've ever needed to know.

ML: I must ask you, was it a dream come true to record and release a CD of your own original music with guitarist Amos Garrett?

SR: As with Robert: I don't have that much ambition in my dreams. I certainly would have dreamed of it if it had ever occurred to me. I am, today, just as stunned as I was at the moment when, after I told him I had been asked to record four songs for a computer game, Amos said, "Got a lead guitar player?" He had once let me sit in with him and his famous Eh? Team for a few songs—but that had been in Smithers, BC on Halloween, nobody sober and no tape running. I still feel the solo he blew for me on my song "Oblivion" is one of the very best he's recorded in his remarkable career...which includes what Stevie Wonder called "the finest instrumental break in the history of rock and roll," on Maria Muldaur's "Midnight At The Oasis." I mean, the man blew with Paul Butterfield!

Since those sessions, he sat in for half my set at the Vancouver Island Musicfest in Comox a few years ago (with ace bassman Gregg Carroll), and once let Jeanne and me sing a couple with his latest wonder-group, the Amos Acoustic Trio, when they played Bowen Island. (Him and Gregg plus Doug Cox on dobro.)

The CD you speak of has just four tracks, but Amos is on all of them, along with some of Vancouver's best session cats. The rest of the disc is me reading a section from Callahan's Key.

You can hear samples and order it here.

ML: I recently read The Crazy Years: Reflections of a Science Fiction Original, which is an insightful, entertaining and erudite collection of articles you wrote for the Toronto Globe and Mail, a wonderful newspaper I must say. How did this book project come about? I always find a writer's nonfiction to be a very insightful window into their mind. My favorite is You Just Can't Kill for Jesus/Allah/Jahweh/Rama/Elvis—that was classic.

SR: Thanks, Michael. The book came about because words are like the Brooklyn Bridge: you can sell them as many times as you can find a sucker. In this case Glenn Yeffeth of BenBella Press, who has published some excellent science fiction by David Gerrold and others, wrote and asked if I had any out of print novels or story collections. I'm happy to say I don't; all the fiction I've written is available for sale in some form or other. The best I could offer him was the Op-Ed columns I'd been writing for several years for Canada's national newspaper, The Globe And Mail, under the titles "The Crazy Years" and then "Future Tense." Glenn bought them, published them as The Crazy Years, and they've been selling remarkably well ever since.

I got the column because I was sounding off about current events to a friend one day, Vancouver writer and critic Shannon Rupp, and she—bless her pancreas—said, "Don't tell me. Type it up and send it to the Globe." For nearly a decade I got paid for being the guy in the bar who won't shut up about the news. I appreciate your kind words; I'm fond of that particular column myself. I wish I had time for them these days, or the Globe had the budget to afford me.

ML: Your wife, Jeanne, who co-wrote the Stardance novels with you, practices Soto Zen Buddhism. Do you practice a life philosophy?

SR: "Three things only in life are real: God, human stupidity, and laughter. But the first two pass our comprehension: we must do what we can with the third." That's a quote from Valmiki, the wisest man on earth, in Aubrey Menon's brilliant unbastardization of the oldest known poem, The Ramayana. (All other existing translations are by Brahmins....and Valmiki's poem is a blistering satire of the Brahmin class.)

Jeanne and I were both born Catholic. Now she's a Soto Zen Buddhist in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a student of Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi; I use Irish whiskey. We get along fine.

ML: Who developed the computer-generated film adaptation of The Stardance Project that can be seen on your website? Oh, and how is Jeanne's short film based upon the Stardance novels coming along and will it be completed in time to be presented at the Robert Heinlein Centennial celebration?

SR: Shucks, that ain't computer-generated film, not by a long shot. That's just a Flash animation of three still images that were created to promote Jeanne's film by the Hugo-winning Ron Miller.

But once again, I'm very glad you asked. The schedule stretched...and so has the concept: the most Jeanne was able to get ready for premiere by the Centennial, last summer, was a Powerpoint presentation on the film she now hopes to make with her new producer/director James Sposto—namely, a 40-minute large-format (Imax-size) movie. A real story, in other words, rather than just an extended FX sequence. Happily, that Powerpoint presentation brought in impressive donations—including a stunning one from the great Dr. Peter Diamandis, creator of the Ansari X Prize: two free tickets for Jeanne and her dancer Kathleen McDonagh on a Zero-G Corp parabolic flight out of Vegas which put them in free fall for 30 seconds at a time. They went up together just before New Year's Day—and the footage they got has helped Jeanne start to connect with the larger world outside the science fiction community. She and Jim are putting a final polish on their script as we speak, and in my professional opinion it's terrific. I mean, even before you add in Jeanne's choreography. This could be really cool. Cross your fingers, zero-gee dance fans!

Folks wanting to know more can start at the successor to the page you mention. There are videos of Kathleen and Jeanne in zero-G there, and a rather interesting blog. Help is still urgently needed, and all contributions are welcome, small or large or even larger. You can become one of the very earliest recorded patrons of a brand new art form—one that's certain to be huge one day.

One of the reasons we originally dreamed of having the whole film ready for Robert's Centennial was that about five minutes before it was first conceived, at the first Heinlein Awards dinner, his granddaughter Dr. Amy Baxter (a pediatric pain specialist) stunned us by telling us that The Stardance Trilogy was Robert and Ginny's favorite series. The film, and the books, spring from the same impulse that produced Variable Star. Men and women will not go to the stars unless they can take their arts along—for in a gulf that vast, an emptiness that terrible, only art can console us and keep us sane.

Because of our books, and a performance of her dance solo "Higher Ground," at the 1980 World Science Fiction Convention, Jeanne was once a finalist for NASA's Civilian In Space Program, and she was serious about it: even the day after the Challenger Tragedy ended that program for our generation on its first try, she was still ready and eager to climb aboard the next thing smokin' and try zero-gee dance herself, for real.

She still is. I wish I could buy her a ticket to orbit. I have a healthy ego, but I also know my wife is a much better artist than I am. With luck—and some help—she can still help to inspire whoever will become the first dancer in space, through her film.

ML: In your excellent Callahan series, I get the sense that Jake Stonebender is very reflective of your personality, quirks, cravings and all. Is this an accurate analogy?

SR: The basic difference between Jake and me is that he was a better folksinger, able to keep hanging on when the rest of the country turned in its musical wisdom to disco instead. We are both equally blessed in our wife and our daughter. He has more friends than I do, but none better. And we test out in the same percentile for both job and life satisfaction: the upper hundredth.

I am more heavily hung, however; even today there are limits on what you can say in a book intended for a family audience. A few, anyway.

ML: Speaking of which, what novels do you have or had at one time, optioned for film, graphic novel or video game? I think the Callahan series would be an excellent television series. I heard that negotiations for just such a deal with the Sci Fi Channel fell through recently.

SR: I wish there'd been a recent Sci Fi Channel deal for Callahan's to fall through. Pretty much all my novels have been optioned at one time or another over the last 35 years, some dozens of times....but so far, nobody's ever inched over that magic line past which I start to see more than small change: the fabled First Day of Principal Photography when, in legal terms, the option is "exercised." I've long since stopped holding my breath. I always assumed Robert Heinlein was turning away aggressive Hollywood offers all his life, for craft reasons: turns out the phone only started to ring after his death.

I have two very good hip smart film/TV agents in LA now, Kevin Cleary and Josh Morris of Content House...but a few years back I had a different agent who circulated a Callahan's Place treatment of his own to several places including the Sci Fi Channel. Every time I asked to see it, the subject changed somehow. Finally I had a producer friend get one from him by fraud—and fired him on the spot. All I recognized from my own work was the name Callahan, and the general notion of unusual things occurring in a place where alcohol could be purchased. There was still a musician named Jake, a very minor character...but the hero and viewpoint character was now someone named (if memory serves, and I'll kill it if it does) Prince Zorgg. Each week a different Funny Alien would walk in and tell a story about the star he lived on. There's no point in circulating a real Callahan's treatment until everyone who saw that one has retired. (Another week, tops.) At the moment they're shopping Variable Star and a splendid treatment Josh did for The Free Lunch (and showed me before Kevin sent it out). Wish me luck!

There was once, decades ago, a very good, hilarious computer game based on Callahan's Place, written by a lunatic genius named Josh Mandel—for which my recordings with Amos Garrett were made. Sadly, the week it was going to release the game, Legend Entertainment was bought out by a much bigger outfit which decided not to. Sales probably peaked at about two figures. There never was a Mac version. You can still find the PC version by googling; good luck making it work with your present operating system.

ML: Have you ever found a publishing house for your controversial novel, Night of Power?

SR: Yes, I'm happy to say. The one founded by the same man who was the only publisher in science fiction courageous enough to print it the first time around, in hardcover—even though he took issue with its politics just as much this time as he had then: my dear friend the late Jim Baen of Baen Books. He was one of those guys just like Robert: so opinionated, and so eloquently opinionated, that many just assumed he would not like people who disagreed with his opinions. Jim (and Robert) loved people who disagreed with his opinions, especially if they had the hairs to argue their point.

Jim put Night of Power back in print in paperback a year or two ago, after decades in limbo. Even though the story it tells—of a black/white race war in the US in the (then) far-future year of 1999—did not come to pass the way I wrote it (big surprise: I failed to predict the internet or cellphones back before there were any PCs in the world), it still has things to say, and Jim was hip and alert enough to realize there is a new audience for it. I wrote it to try and address how screwed black/white relations are in America, and to show what might happen—will happen—if we don't fix it soon....or at least start trying honestly, on both sides. Nothing has changed about that, any more than the San Andreas Fault has gone away because it hasn't let go just yet. See David Simon's brilliant HBO series The Wire.

There's a certain ambiguity to my last name, the same as Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, and the "other Ray Robinson," Ray Charles (My ex-brother-in-law conducted Brother Ray's orchestra for years). I have black relatives as well as friends. I cannot tell you how much pleasure it gave me when, on three different occasions, black readers with the oddest expression on their faces handed me a copy of Night of Power to autograph, and muttered, "I could have sworn you were a brother." And the same when a reader in Mississippi muttered, "I'd of swore you was a—" and then took another look at my expression and finished, "—frican-American, Mister."

I'm not a brother, never can be. I know that. But God damn it, we're all cousins.

ML: If you could name the one science fiction novel, other than a Robert A. Heinlein novel, that inspired and propelled you to begin writing speculative fiction, what was it? What about it moved you so?

SR: More Than Human by the (I pray) immortal Theodore Sturgeon, the only SF writer I esteem as highly as Robert. What moved me was, first of course, the sheer power and control and beauty of Ted's language; and second, his chief theme and personal obsession. It is a cliché in science fiction to say that "one way or another, everything Sturgeon wrote was about love." But I think that is more true of Robert than it was of Ted. Phil Dick wanted to know what identity is, what reality is; Robert wanted to define just what, exactly, love and duty are....and Ted could not stop examining all the different kinds and types and intensities of need there are. Just as inspirational for me as More Than Human was a novella of Ted's, actually titled, Need. Hunt it down: it's a masterpiece, about a nasty, self-centered, snarling, ugly little runt named Gorwing, and the handful of eccentric people who follow him around and treat him like a god. Because poor Gorwing has a terrible affliction: he feels other people's need from far away—like a pounding in his own head, like a toothache—and so cannot rest until he's helped them out of whatever fix they're in, hating them every moment. His followers are people he straightened, who then chose to quietly pass it forward, as a way of cherishing Gorwing.

Ted was the best wordsmith, the best poet, my genre has had yet. He wrote a story once in which each chapter was written in a different meter—not as a stunt (he never mentions it, you might well never notice it), but for sound dramatic reasons. But he would have been great if he wrote with both fists, like Mickey Spillane—because of what he wrote about and what he had to say about it. Maybe no other writer, period, knew as much about need. And yes, love. Ted wasn't a saint, but he wrote like one. I'm proud to have been his friend, and sorry his work has not been cherished as much as Robert's has. An 11-volume hardcover collection of all his short fiction can be obtained from North Atlantic Press, edited by Paul Williams, and I paid cash for every volume the day it became available. Another time perhaps I'll tell you about the time Ted and I engaged in a pun duel that emptied a restaurant in Halifax; I was lucky to live through it. (This was the man who once wrote in his New York Times Book Review column that H.G. Wells had "...sold his birthright for a pot of message.")

ML: In the evolution versus intelligent design wars, one theoretical proposition that is hardly ever discussed is Nobel Prize winning scientist Francis Crick's Directed Panspermia hypothesis (in a nutshell, he believed that aliens seeded life on earth, and maybe around the universe). What is your opinion of Crick's stance? Do you think we are alone in the universe?

SR: I'm with Dr. Crick, without a paddle. I won't even argue with so-called "intelligent design," if they just don't try and tell me the designer is ultimately intelligent and ultimately kind and ultimately powerful. As Lazarus Long said, "If you have a mind capable of believing all three of those attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. Cash only, please—small bills."

I mean, a superficial glance at the design of the human body disproves God's perfection—some would say competence. No volume-knob for the pain system? Come on! The supreme intelligence decided sex and excretion were best combined? That testicles should hang outside the body, and breasts droop with age? Why should dying, already enough of an insult, hurt? For that matter, from an evolutionary perspective, why should anything after the childbearing years hurt? What was Adam supposed to do with the urgent news that he had a cavity—bash himself in the face with a rock? Or was that the kindest way the Great Designer could find to nudge us into inventing dentistry, after a million years of torment?

I picture the Intelligent Designer as having bad skin, bad hair, no social life whatsoever, a really hot laptop, and way too much caffeine in her system.

Of course, Crick's panspermia notion, which had been around for decades in science fiction before he rediscovered it—Stapledon, Hoyle, others—does not really address the God Question. It merely seeks to put it one remove away. Okay, man arose from interstellar Who or What made the interstellar lifespores, and the emptiness through which they drifted for so long? And what made Him or Them choose this dump for an ant-farm?

Whoever did it, however dumb their reasons, however competent their execution, I must say I'm glad they went to the trouble. All of this—history, planet, stars, universe, plenum, existence itself—was not only worth the trouble, it has all paid off big-time. I got to meet Jeanne, and spend a lifetime with her. I hope it was good for everyone out there too.

I want to thank Spider Robinson for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. Spider proved to be an excellent interviewee and host. For a complete bibliography, log on to SciFan. And for all you computer-generated animation and independent film buffs check out the Stardance Project, based upon Spider's novel, Stardance.

Oh, and for all you trivial pursuit fans out there, his daughter once worked for Martha Stewart, but we won't hold that against him.

Copyright © 2008, Michael Lohr. All Rights Reserved.

About Michael Lohr

Michael Lohr is professional writer/journalist, university researcher and professional treasure hunter. He is a Fellow with the Mudlark Society of the British Museum in London. He is a world explorer and belongs to many adventuring groups including The Explorer’s Club; Global Research and Discovery Network; the International Metal Detectorist & Artifact Recovery Association based in Lisbon, Portugal; National Geographic Society and the World Mountain Institute.

His webpage can be found at:


Apr 18, 04:40 by IROSF
Please post your own stories of Spider, or your feedback on Michael Lohr's interview.

The conversation can be found here.
Apr 20, 18:53 by M S
Great interview.

The Crazy Years is well worth reading. But one small correction: The interviewer called the newspaper "the Toronto Globe and Mail." In fact, the Globe and Mail is Canada's national newspaper. (Yes, there is that National Post, but does it really have the status of the G&M?). There is a Toronto Edition of the Globe and Mail, but are you saying that it was only in the TO ed? Because Spider's wonderful writings were regularly carried nationally.

In any case, it is always a wonderful experience to read an interview of such an interesting subject by such a skilled and well-informed interviewer. I'm off to read more of Lohr's interviews . . .

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