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.
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