Hawksbill Station, by Robert Silverberg
It seems I just can’t keep away from genre fiction. While I know that Silverberg is a big name in Sci-fi circles, Hawksbill Station (also titled The Anvil of Time) is the first of his novels, and th
e second title in his bibliography that I’ve read. The only other thing, the short story of the same title that this book is based on, I read about two years ago and promptly fell in love with.
Hawksbill Station, is what One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich would have been if Solzhenitsyn had been into speculative fiction. In common with Radio Free Albemuth, the catalyst for the plot is a conservative take over of the US Government. This government, which is too benign to muddy its hands with capital punishment, has harnessed the power of time-travel to send its most dangerous opponents back to the Precambrian Era and leaving them to their own devices. The protagonist, Jim Barrett, is the undisputed king of the station and a former counter-revolutionary leader. While there is a lengthy back story for Barrett (the only real change from the original short story) which details his life before the Station, this could be interchanged with almost any 1960s pulp conspiracy story. Instead it is the “Present Day” story which depicts the struggles of isolation in a novel setting that makes this worth reading. As the story opens, Barrett is suffering from a crippling leg injury, chronically aware of the fact all of his old comrades are either dead or insane, and despairing of his mortality. As a character study and exploration on a theme, its one of the most effective I’ve ever read, and the time travel element is mostly just a framing device for this. While it is, obviously, Science Fiction, the way time travel is treated, it could just as easily be the Trans-Siberian Railway, or a boat that takes the men to Antarctica, as it’s only role is as a way of facilitating the characters isolation.
To be honest, the secondary plot doesn’t add much to the story other than context, and I while there are a few variations on the theme, it’s by and large generic stuff, which is the only thing keeping this from being a 5/5. At a push, I’d recommend seeking out the short story over the full novel, just because it’s better paced, but this was still a good read, and both quick and easy for a lazy afternoon.