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Sunday, June 9, 2013

"Hawksbill Station" by Robert Silverberg

Collected in To the Dark Star: 1962-69, it first appeared in Frederik Pohl's Galaxy, reprinted in both Donald Wollheim/Terry Carr's and Brian Aldiss/Harry Harrison's Year's Best anthologies.  It was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards.  It is Silverberg's first story to capture award nominators' attention.

Because time travelers can only go backwards, the government has placed their troublesome, male revolutionaries in the Precambrian where they cannot create time paradoxes, accidentally destroying an evolutionary ancestor.  The former revolutionaries go a little crazy without anything to do or females to spend their time with.  One actually "creates" a woman out of mud and grass.

Our hero is Barrett, "the uncrowned King of Hawksbill Station," due to his length of stay, mental stamina, and size although he became crippled after a rock slide, eroding his power somewhat--at least in his mind.  They keep hoping for a female although one never comes.  Lew Hahn arrives and everything changes.  The men get suspicious as he cannot explain his.  Stranger still, he's been taking damning notes on everyone at the station, saying it ought to be gotten rid of.  The men consider him a spy and watch him carefully... until he disappears.

This is truly a significant work:  the power in one's powerlessness, the search for importance and the fear of losing it even when you'd suspect that one's position should be anathema.  These themes create a potent tale.  The novel doesn't work as well as the stir-crazy aspects and crucible conditions get lost (although it has its own appeal).

The plot-pivotal character, Hahn, probably should have been a psychologist and his assessments not so quickly lost--or at least misinterpreted.  However, this does not erode the power of the novella because this is Barrett's tale--his effort to hold the station together, come what may.

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