Last week I introduced the topic of the bar story and I saw from the comments that I struck a popular chord.
As I mentioned, the bar story is an example of a framing device, a literary tool which enables a writer to link a series of stories, in this case by having them told by people who have gathered together in a bar. The question of whether the “club story” qualified as a “bar story” came up, and on thinking it over, I realized that it did. For purposes of tale-telling – to say nothing of drinking – one’s club is essentially the same as one’s local.
This week, I’d like to talk in a little more depth about the anthologies edited by George H. Scithers and Darrell Schweitzer, Tales From The Spaceport Bar (1987) and Another Round at the Spaceport Bar (1989).
As they tell us in the preface to Tales, the editors were inspired to collect these stories by what they call “that magnificent old cliché with chairs” the spaceport bar – as depicted in the scene from Star Wars (Episode IV, for those of you who weren’t around at the time). The preface also gives us a more detailed history of the sub-genre of “bar story” than I gave you last week.
I think we can all agree, however, that the important contents here are the 22 stories, not the preface. Many, if not most, of the stories are examples of framework “bar stories”, like Larry Niven’s “The Green Marauder” from his Draco’s Tavern series, “Elephas Frumenti” from the Gavagan’s Bar series of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, “Strategy at the Billiards Club” from Lord Dunsany’s Joseph Jorkin series, or Spider Robinson’s “The Centipede’s Dilemna” from Callahan’s Bar.
It’s only to be expected that some of these stories are a bit dated – the original publication dates range from Dunsany’s story and Henry Kuttner’s “Don’t Look Now”, both in 1948, to Darrell Schweitzer’s “Social Lapses” and John Gregory Betencourt’s “On the Rocks at Slab’s”, both in 1985.
Strangely, it’s some of the earlier stories that seem the least dated, perhaps because they feel “historical,” which puts them into another category. One of the interesting elements for me was less scientific or technical dating than sociological. The virtual disappearance of the “men’s club,” for example, or how patrons act in bars, the reasons they go to bars – even the presence and portrayal of the few women who appear as characters – these are the kind of changes most of us haven’t been around long enough to notice personally and it’s nice to get your history lessons in such entertaining form.
Some of the other stories are “stories set in bars,” which, as we discussed last week, aren’t quite the same thing as “bar stories.” My favourite among these is Roger Zelazny’s “Unicorn Variations” – which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading my posts.
Another Round at the Spaceport Bar continues where Tales left off. Once again, stories are included from the editors themselves (Schweitzer’s “Pennies from Hell” a real creeper; Scither’s “Not Polluted Enough”), as well as from Asimov, Niven, and Dunsany. This time, there are some new/old voices. Fritz Leiber’s “The Oldest Soldier” is a particularly memorable piece of urban fantasy and John M. Ford’s “The Persecutor’s Tale” is a shivering marvel.
Also included is Heinlein’s classic “All You Zombies,” which you may recall I talked about in my time travel post. It also happens to be a story set in a bar.
WT Quick contributes the only non-reprint to the anthology, with his very clever “Finnegan’s,” which makes it the most recent story, copyrighted 1988. The oldest story is Dunsany’s “The Three Sailors Gambit” from 1916. It’s not a Joseph Jorkin story, by the way, but just as enjoyable.
I’d like to point out that “most recent” is a little more than 25 years ago. Has there been anything “more recent?” If not, don’t you think there should be?
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures, as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the soon-to-be released Halls of Law series. Visit her website, www.violettemalan.com.