Monday, September 27, 2010

"Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg

I’m a new arrival to the school of Robert Silverberg. I read The Book of Skulls in 2005 and I’ve made a point to read at least some Silverberg every year since. A few weeks ago I found a TOR Double—No. 26—that featured “Press Enter” by John Varley on one side and Robert Silverberg’s “Hawksbill Station” on the other. The TOR Double contained the text of the original short story published in Galaxy in 1967. The story was expanded and published as a novel in 1968.

Hawksbill Station is a penal colony used to segregate political dissidents from the general population. It is much like the Soviet gulags of the mid-Twentieth Century, except there are no guards, no fences and no returns. A wall of time, two billion years long, separates Hawksbill and the society that created it. It is on an Earth that has yet to witness its fish crawl from the sea. The camp’s only connection with the future, what the men call “Up Front,” is a device called the Hammer and Anvil—a time machine that only operates into the past. And it is the lifeline of the small penal colony.

“Hawksbill Station” is an intriguing story. It alters the Cold War prison tale into dystopian science fiction. While the model of the prison is clearly based on the Soviet-style gulag, the story is as much about capitalism as it is about communism—the idea being, oppression is oppression no matter its wrappings. With that said the politics of the story are less important, much less, than the story itself. The setting, as dark and desolate as it is, has a beautiful surreal sense—picture an Earth with no mammals and no flora inhabited by trilobites and several dozen banished men.

The story is only 86 pages in mass market, but Mr Silverberg, with a sparse and seemingly simple prose, is able to create both the world and the characters in a detail that many writers are unable to do in three- or four-hundred pages. He makes the characters, all of them, sympathetic and likable. The antagonist is two billion years from where the story is told and is really nothing more than the shadow of a bogeyman.

“Hawksbill Station” is the real deal. It is a science fiction story that tells something of who we are as a culture, and more importantly, what we are as individuals. It is a truly excellent story.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished the extended story and loved it. I am anxious to get my hands on the original shorter version for comparison. (Any thoughts as to where I might find a copy? Wink wink?) This was an intriguing, thoughtful and imaginative story. It was fascinating contemplating the world the prisoners found themselves in. I am eager to hop on google.com after this to look up some of the creatures the men pulled out of the ocean. It was also really interesting seeing the main character, Barrett, evolve personally over his life. Great review.

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