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Born in the Bronx, New York City, New York, Robinson attended Catholic high school, spending his junior year in a seminary, followed by two years in a Catholic college, and five years at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in the 1960s, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English. While at Stony Brook, Spider earned a reputation as a great entertainer at campus coffeehouses and gatherings, strumming his guitar and singing in harmony with his female partner. In his 20s, he "spent several years in the woods, deliberately trying to live without technology." In 1971, just out of college, he got a night job guarding sewers in New York City. He wrote his first published science fiction story, "The Guy with The Eyes", to get out of that job. In 1975 he married Jeanne Robinson, a choreographer, dancer, and Sōtō Zen monk, who co-wrote his Stardance Trilogy. They have a daughter, Terri Luanna da Silva, who once worked for Martha Stewart.
Robinson has lived in Canada for nearly 40 years, primarily in the provinces of Nova Scotia and British Columbia. He formerly lived in "an upscale district of Vancouver for a decade," and has lived on Bowen Island since approximately 1999. He became a Canadian citizen in 2002, retaining his American citizenship. Spider and Jeanne's first grandchild, Marisa, was born in 2009, as Jeanne was undergoing treatment for "a rare and virulent form of biliary cancer". Jeanne Robinson died May 30, 2010. Their daughter Terri has been battling Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.
Robinson suffered a heart attack on August 31, 2013, but recovered. Due to the health issues faced by his family over the last few years, he has not published a novel since 2008. However, Robinson reports on his website that work on his next book Orphan Stars is progressing, albeit slowly.
Robinson made his first short-story sale in 1972 to Analog Science Fiction magazine. The story, "The Guy With The Eyes" (Analog February 1973), was set in a bar called Callahan's Place; Robinson would, off-and-on, continue to write stories about the denizens of Callahan's into the 21st century. Robinson made several short-story sales to Analog, Galaxy Science Fiction magazine and others, and worked as a book reviewer for Galaxy magazine during the mid-to-late 1970s. In 1978–79 he contributed book reviews to the original anthology series Destinies.
Robinson's first published novel, Telempath (1976), was an expansion of his Hugo award-winning novella "By Any Other Name". Over the following three decades, Robinson on average released a book a year, including short story anthologies. In 1996–2005, he served as a columnist in the Op-Ed section (and briefly in the technology section) of the Globe and Mail.
In 2004, he pronounced himself "overjoyed" to begin working on a seven-page 1955 novel outline by the late Robert A. Heinlein to expand it into a novel. The book, titled Variable Star, was released on September 19, 2006. Robinson has always made his admiration for Heinlein very clear; in an afterword to Variable Star he recounts the story of how on his first visit to a public library a librarian named Ruth Siegel "changed my life completely" by sizing up the child in front of her and handing him a copy of the Heinlein juvenile novel Rocket Ship Galileo, after which "the first ten books I ever read in my life were by Robert Heinlein, and they were all great." Early in Robinson's career, Heinlein even helped to support Robinson financially during an especially difficult period; Robinson was especially grateful because he knew that Heinlein, who at the time was supportive of the war in Vietnam, knew of Robinson's fervent opposition to the war.
Robinson is also an admirer of mystery writer John D. MacDonald. Lady Sally McGee, from the Callahan's series, is apparently named in honor of Travis McGee, the central character in MacDonald's mystery novels. The lead character in Lady Slings The Booze frequently refers to Travis McGee as a role model. In Callahan's Key the patrons make a visit to the marina near Fort Lauderdale where the Busted Flush was usually moored in the McGee series. On Robinson's website there is a photo of him "at the address (now demolished) of 'The Busted Flush,' home of John D. MacDonald’s immortal character Travis McGee: Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, Fort Lauderdale FL." Similarly important to Robinson is writer Donald E. Westlake and Westlake's most famous character, John Archibald Dortmunder.
Robinson's stance may be described as humanistic and humorous. He has frequently encouraged a positive attitude towards world issues, claiming that a pessimistic world view will yield pessimistic results. Frequently in his writing, the conflicts center around a science fiction issue with a human solution, following Theodore Sturgeon's definition of a good science fiction story.
|1977||Callahan's Crosstime Saloon||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender||Collection of linked stories|
|1979||Stardance||Jeanne Robinson||Stardance Trilogy|
|1981||Time Travelers Strictly Cash||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender||Collection of linked stories; also contains several non-Callahan's stories|
|1985||Night of Power|
|1986||Callahan's Secret||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender||Collection of linked stories|
|1987||Time Pressure||Deathkiller Trilogy|
|1989||Callahan's Lady||Lady Sally's|
|1991||Starseed||Jeanne Robinson||Stardance Trilogy|
|1992||Lady Slings the Booze||Lady Sally's||An excerpt from Lady Slings the Booze was published in a special edition novella called Kill the Editor in 1991.|
|1993||The Callahan Touch||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender|
|1995||Starmind||Jeanne Robinson||Stardance Trilogy|
|1996||Callahan's Legacy||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender|
|2000||Callahan's Key||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender|
|2001||The Free Lunch|
|2003||Callahan's Con||Callahan's/Jake Stonebender|
|2004||Very Bad Deaths||Russell Walker|
|2006||Variable Star||Robert A. Heinlein||Based on an outline Heinlein prepared in 1955.|
|2008||Very Hard Choices||Russell Walker|
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