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Author Topic: EP346: Hawksbill Station  (Read 13681 times)

eytanz

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on: May 27, 2012, 08:36:54 AM
EP346: Hawksbill Station

By Robert Silverberg

Read by Paul Tevis

Originally appeared in Galaxy Magazine

---

Barrett was the uncrowned King of Hawksbill Station. He had been there the longest; he had suffered the most; he had the deepest inner resources of strength. Before his accident, he had been able to whip any man in the place. Now he was a cripple, but he still had that aura of power that gave him command. When there were problems at the Station, they were brought to Barrett. That was axiomatic. He was the king.

He ruled over quite a kingdom, too. In effect it was the whole world, pole to pole, meridian to meridian. For what it was worth. It wasn’t worth very much.

Now it was raining again. Barrett shrugged himself to his feet in the quick, easy gesture that cost him an infinite amount of carefully concealed agony, and shuffled to the door of his hut. Rain made him impatient:. the pounding of those great greasy drops against the corrugated tin roof was enough even to drive a Jim Barrett loony. He nudged the door open. Standing in the doorway, Barrett looked out over his kingdom.

Barren rock, nearly to the horizon. A shield of raw dolomite going on and on. Raindrops danced and bounced on that continental slab of rock. No trees. No grass. Behind Barrett’s hut lay the sea, gray and vast. The sky was gray too, even when it wasn’t raining.

He hobbled out into the rain. Manipulating his crutch was getting to be a simple matter for him now. He leaned comfortably, letting his crushed left foot dangle. A rockslide had pinned him last year during a trip to the edge of the Inland Sea. Back home, Barrett would have been fitted with prosthetics and that would have been the end of it: a new ankle, a new instep, refurbished ligaments and tendons. But home was a billion years away, and home there’s no returning.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Cattfish

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Reply #1 on: May 27, 2012, 04:36:05 PM
Pretty good story, but I thought it may have done better at a shorter length. 



Kaa

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Reply #2 on: May 27, 2012, 08:17:52 PM
Loved, loved, LOVED this one.

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Zedonius

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Reply #3 on: May 29, 2012, 04:35:58 AM
I'll be honest, I was doing some household chores while listening to this, so I missed some of the story. That said, I really liked this piece, especially the "quiet moments" where the inmates and workers at Hawksbill just exist in Precambria. That really set the mood for the piece, and I'll admit that, for a moment, I was actually wanting to be a part of the story. Be someplace quiet. Fish the antediluvian oceans. Be separated from everyone. I guess 60-70 hour work weeks will do that. Anyways, thanks a lot for another fun piece of fiction!

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schizoTypal

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Reply #4 on: May 29, 2012, 04:47:51 AM
@Cattfish - I actually got really excited when Mur told me this was going to be a long one! And I wasn't disappointed at all. I can see how you might think of it as a bad thing, but I feel like the story warranted that much text.

@Zedonius - I completely agree with your sentiment about the "quiet moments." Even though that sounds like it must be a bad thing, this story genuinely benefits from having moments that don't actually progress a story, but more seem to add to a feeling. These people are living in the cambrian epoch for a long time, and it gets the feeling of large expanses of time passing.

I found this story touching on a number of different levels. A description of a gruff, powerful, large, intimidating man... taking care of all the others who had lost their minds, as gently as you could possibly ask. A group of exiles living together the very best they can manage. The ending actually seemed possibly unnecessary to me, and I would almost preferred an endingless literary "fade to black". Rather than feeling any sense of completion.

This is one of my favorite so far on Escape Pod.



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Reply #5 on: May 29, 2012, 04:38:31 PM
I enjoyed this quite a lot, which surprised me since I almost never like stories that are this length.  Usually they just seem incredibly bloated and filled with fluff, but I didn't feel that way about this story at all.  Like others, I felt that the quiet moments were very fitting for the content:  the main aspect of the setting is that there's not much to do but sit and think and so rushing through that would've made the whole thing feel less real.

When they first found clues that the visitor could move forward in time, I figured that he really would, but it makes sense for these people who have given up on returning to society for this reason to regard this as lunacy, so that was an effective way to convey the dramatic irony.



schizoTypal

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Reply #6 on: May 29, 2012, 06:10:11 PM
I enjoyed this quite a lot, which surprised me since I almost never like stories that are this length.  Usually they just seem incredibly bloated and filled with fluff, but I didn't feel that way about this story at all.  Like others, I felt that the quiet moments were very fitting for the content:  the main aspect of the setting is that there's not much to do but sit and think and so rushing through that would've made the whole thing feel less real.
It felt to me like the author hit the nail right on the head with the illusion of time passing so slowly. The fact that it was broken into chapters and read with the numbers aloud really added to the monotonous feeling of the over-all story. It's hard to word that in a way that sounds as positive as it is.

When they first found clues that the visitor could move forward in time, I figured that he really would, but it makes sense for these people who have given up on returning to society for this reason to regard this as lunacy, so that was an effective way to convey the dramatic irony.
This is the part where it seems like the author is making a sociopolitical commentary. The way that imprisonment changes a person, and how after a long period of time there's simply no "rehabilitation," possible. There's no going back. We've seen this in reality a number of different ways; not the least of which being the existence of Australia. You can also take a look into various sociological and anthropological studies to find that people will fit their surroundings, whether or not that's a "good" thing. A moral man in a backwardly immoral society will follow the law of the land, not the law of where he's from. Insanity is always defined by the differential between the subject and his surroundings.



Thomas

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Reply #7 on: May 29, 2012, 10:32:13 PM
I do not remember when or where I read this story first. I think it was a paperback, YEARS ago (1978, I googled it). Loved it then, love it now. Timeless story about time travel (and I do not like time travel stories for the most part, think they are fundamentally flawed). Good story, ending was a bit week. Felt like Silverberg either got tired of it/needed to finish it/ got distracted and came back to finish it.
I felt that Paul's reading of this story was spot on.

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schizoTypal

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Reply #8 on: May 30, 2012, 09:00:27 PM
I do not remember when or where I read this story first. I think it was a paperback, YEARS ago (1978, I googled it). Loved it then, love it now. Timeless story about time travel (and I do not like time travel stories for the most part, think they are fundamentally flawed). Good story, ending was a bit week. Felt like Silverberg either got tired of it/needed to finish it/ got distracted and came back to finish it.
I felt that Paul's reading of this story was spot on.

I'm curious as to what you think the fundamental flaw of a time-travel based story is. I've always liked them, and they seem right at home in the land of SciFi in general with entirely fictional science, normally based on slightly possible and highly improbable scenarios.



Thomas

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Reply #9 on: May 31, 2012, 04:07:46 AM
I'm curious as to what you think the fundamental flaw of a time-travel based story is. I've always liked them, and they seem right at home in the land of SciFi in general with entirely fictional science, normally based on slightly possible and highly improbable scenarios.

In most time travel stories (MIB 3, for example) people go back on time to change things. to kill some one, to have something happen or not happen, have something happen is a different way, etc. the way i see it, what has happened has happened, we cannot change it. to change it we create a either a paradox were the need to time travel does not exists so the person/persons do not go back and don't change anything. so the future isn't change so they go back in time to change things and the cycle continues. OR they create an alternative universe (ala the new Star Trek) and OUR time line does not change. things change in the alternative time line. As you can tell, my believe in what is possible or not possible in time travel does not prevent me from enjoying a good story, time travel based or not. Time Quake by Vonnegut is my favorite Vonnegut story. Singularity by Bill DeSmedt (Podiobooks.com) is another excellent story that involves time travel. Borrowed time (podiobooks,com) deals with time travel in an interesting manner.

Enjoy and be nice to each other, because "WE" is all we got.


schizoTypal

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Reply #10 on: May 31, 2012, 06:57:04 AM
I'm curious as to what you think the fundamental flaw of a time-travel based story is. I've always liked them, and they seem right at home in the land of SciFi in general with entirely fictional science, normally based on slightly possible and highly improbable scenarios.

In most time travel stories (MIB 3, for example) people go back on time to change things. to kill some one, to have something happen or not happen, have something happen is a different way, etc. the way i see it, what has happened has happened, we cannot change it. to change it we create a either a paradox were the need to time travel does not exists so the person/persons do not go back and don't change anything. so the future isn't change so they go back in time to change things and the cycle continues. OR they create an alternative universe (ala the new Star Trek) and OUR time line does not change. things change in the alternative time line. As you can tell, my believe in what is possible or not possible in time travel does not prevent me from enjoying a good story, time travel based or not. Time Quake by Vonnegut is my favorite Vonnegut story. Singularity by Bill DeSmedt (Podiobooks.com) is another excellent story that involves time travel. Borrowed time (podiobooks,com) deals with time travel in an interesting manner.

In general, I know the physics behind any given type of event and I do have the nagging "That's not how that would happen..." in the back of my mind. But, I've also found that stories that are written well enough from a literary standpoint can give me a convincing enough state of suspended disbelief that I no longer care if what I'm reading is possible - in the universe it's taking place, it surely is! So I believe what I'm saying is that I agree entirely.



EckInBlack

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Reply #11 on: May 31, 2012, 09:39:31 AM
Well only the second time I've felt compelled to come comment and what can I say? You managed to find a story I'd never read by one of my all-time favourite authors. Brilliantly read, lovely pacing, I may need to find another 2 hours driving to do just to enjoy it again!
More classic authors please (as well as the newer ones).........



Talia

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Reply #12 on: May 31, 2012, 12:24:42 PM
Huh. I've never read much Silverburg, and the last story of his to run here wasn't to my tastes, so I was a bit hesitant to tackle the story, particularly considering its length (though longer stories generally don't bother me). Turns out I really enjoyed it and didn't even notice how long it was, I was so engrossed in the doings of this little community. The story does a good job of describing the little world they made for themselves and the types of problems that might emerge in such an isolated setup.

I am surprised a policeman was sent back rather than a psychologist, but that might have been a product of the times the story was written in. Otherwise (excepting the year dates named, obviously. I'm pretty sure there was no time-traveling in 2005 :D), there was little to date the tale.

I am also glad Barrett didn't snap and kill Han in a power play, which is where I thought the story was going when he began expressing fears about losing control over his colony.



Listener

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Reply #13 on: May 31, 2012, 12:55:41 PM
HOLY CRAP ON TOAST that was a long story.

I normally enjoy a good, slow build... but not in audio. In audio, my mind wanders, or I get bored. The story did manage to keep my attention, but it was tough -- and it took three commutes to hear the whole thing. With a podcast backlog like I have, that's just too much sometimes.

Having read a lot of older SF from authors like Silverberg and Heinlein, I found it easy to put my mind in a place where Silverberg was coming from. However, I mostly saw it as a semi-adventure story cloaked in politically-satirist thinking (all the discussions about political parties, protest groups, and economic theories), except without any actual adventure. I think in the end the pace was just too slow to satisfy me.

Plus, I just didn't like Jim Barrett. He talked a lot but didn't really DO very much except keep things status quo -- which, I guess, as the first among equals in a prison colony in the Cambrian age, is all you can do.

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Reply #14 on: May 31, 2012, 01:23:04 PM
I forgot to mention too, that I found it very strange for this future government to send political dissidents into a time before our species evolved.  You think these guys can wreak havoc on our present, why would you trust them with the pre-human planet?  Seemed like a pretty dumb idea to me.



Kaa

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Reply #15 on: May 31, 2012, 01:26:26 PM
I forgot to mention too, that I found it very strange for this future government to send political dissidents into a time before our species evolved.  You think these guys can wreak havoc on our present, why would you trust them with the pre-human planet?  Seemed like a pretty dumb idea to me.

That kept bugging me, as well. I guess the magic that keeps paradoxes from happening (a billionth descendent kills great-to-the-billionth grandma) is what kept them from destroying life on Earth as we know it.

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Talia

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Reply #16 on: May 31, 2012, 01:37:54 PM
I forgot to mention too, that I found it very strange for this future government to send political dissidents into a time before our species evolved.  You think these guys can wreak havoc on our present, why would you trust them with the pre-human planet?  Seemed like a pretty dumb idea to me.

You control what access to technology they have, and their population (they can't breed). Doesn't necessarily seem all that risky to me (except in regards to the whole "step on a butterfly, change the entire fate of mankind" theory of time travel, which was vaguely suggested here but not really explored).



Listener

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Reply #17 on: May 31, 2012, 02:43:38 PM
I forgot to mention too, that I found it very strange for this future government to send political dissidents into a time before our species evolved.  You think these guys can wreak havoc on our present, why would you trust them with the pre-human planet?  Seemed like a pretty dumb idea to me.

You control what access to technology they have, and their population (they can't breed). Doesn't necessarily seem all that risky to me (except in regards to the whole "step on a butterfly, change the entire fate of mankind" theory of time travel, which was vaguely suggested here but not really explored).

IIRC, there was a brief mention (easy to miss in a 90-plus-minute story) of how scientists discovered that the existence of humans one billion years ago wouldn't cause any problems with the timeline.

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flashedarling

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Reply #18 on: May 31, 2012, 04:26:27 PM
I liked the story, even with its length. It provided a nice contemplative stroll through a setting I got to enjoy all day.

I got the impression from the story that this universe was one where you can't change the past. Anything that you do already has happened. The universe is self-protected against paradox.

There was one thing that bothered me though. Would the pre-cambrian atmosphere even be breathable to humans?



Cutter McKay

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Reply #19 on: May 31, 2012, 04:32:44 PM
The best word I can find to describe this story, I think, is "comfortable". Yes, it was long, yes it was slow paced, but Silverberg did a masterful job at pulling me into the Precambrian world and then just letting me sit there and experience a slice of these inmates' lives. And what I saw/heard/experienced was both interesting and entertaining. Not entertaining in the same sense as a Hollywood action flick or comedy, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the setting, the characters, the many minor conflicts from food gathering to slow-onset psychosis. By definition, this was entertaining as an "agreeable occupation for the mind".

The time travel flaw I saw in the story was the understanding that time "Up Front" moves at the same pace as in the past. Well, technically it does, yes, in the sense that one day equals one day. But with time travel, when you can send something back to any time, it's silly to think that someone who just came from the future would have to come from say, 2029, because it's been 20 years since the station was set up. Yet all the inmates still think of time as having progressed from the moment they arrived at the station. I'm finding this idea harder to articulate than I thought. I hope that made sense to someone.

Anyway, although I did enjoy the story in full, with all of its tangents and side stories, I do wonder if a story of this length would get published today. With the push for authors to cut anything not relevant to the main plot, I think Silverberg would be hard pressed to get say, Asimov's or Analogue to pick it up without having to do a significant amount of trimming. That being said, I'm glad it was written back in a time when longer stories were more tolerated because there isn't any aspect of this story I would want to see cut.


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Reply #20 on: May 31, 2012, 10:21:51 PM
I normally enjoy a good, slow build... but not in audio. In audio, my mind wanders, or I get bored. The story did manage to keep my attention, but it was tough -- and it took three commutes to hear the whole thing. With a podcast backlog like I have, that's just too much sometimes.

Yeah, I'm usually like that too.

Luckily I listened to this one by a campfire on a clear night, so it could have gone on forever as far as I was concerned.

Like other people have said, the length contributed to the mood, and the mood was the saving grace with this one. The characters weren't that interesting, and there were holes in the plot (like who needs time travel when you've got Guantanamo?) but I enjoyed it all the same.




patriciomas

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Reply #21 on: June 01, 2012, 01:40:27 PM
I loved this one. With all the abuse of the time travel mechanic (I'm looking at you, Star Trek), it's easy to view the whole idea in sci-fi as hokey, but this story did it perfectly. It was a genuinely interesting plot device and great world-building. To the question of why a government would take the chance of sending humans so far into the past ... well, the likelihood of such a station in the deep past surviving to influence the timeline is incredibly, incredibly low, especially given that there aren't any women, and therefore no babies (no "nature finds a way!" bullshit here). Any natural disaster that damaged the hammer would have meant a rather swift collapse for the station, and it's several mass extinctions and hundreds of millions of years from the first terrestrial vertebrates.

Anyway, I loved the idea, loved the characters, and loved the ending. I'm a big fan of longer stories too, and this one comfortably filled the time. Really great.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #22 on: June 01, 2012, 02:04:14 PM
I really, really dug this one. It was like a less depressing version of that Twilight Zone episode, the one with the lost space colonists that gave me nightmares for about five God-damned years. I know there were many holes in the time-travel logic - and their atmospheric history was a bit off - but it was really interesting to see a story with the opposite problem. In most time travel stories, I'm annoyed when the human continuum is somehow "special" and "protected" - as if the typical atheistic science fiction universe cares what happens to a bunch of particles, even if those particles happen to be in the shape of a human being of historical importance! In this story, though, the message wasn't "human history is so important that it can't be messed with through time travel," but more "individual humans are so inconsequential that we can dump a hundred of them in the pre-cambrian and it won't hurt anything." This was much more my speed.

Another thing I loved was the characters. They were extremely well-written. I enjoyed watching the fault-lines in their personality expand - especially the fault lines in our narrator - as they tried to deal with a life of isolation and irrelevance.

Finally, the politics of this story were hilarious. The prescience! The "fake libertarians" who took over and then began limiting civil liberties in the name of "safety." Sweet mother of lizards! When was this story written? Are we sure the author didn't have a time machine?

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Devoted135

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Reply #23 on: June 01, 2012, 02:07:10 PM
I like Cutter's description of this story being "comfortable." It was like a perfectly broken in comforter, and I'm jealous of Balu being able to listen to it by a campfire. :)

There were so many nice details that one can't really go into all of them, so I'll just choose one that I don't think has been addressed yet. I loved the final scene where Barrett realizes that he doesn't want to go back "up front" after all. He tries so hard to be casual and make his argument from a logical rather than emotional stance, but at the same time is able to take a step back and realize how transparent he must seem. His characterization as alpha-strong, yet fragile and empathetic was really well done, and had me practically tearing up for him! I hope they send back the medical help needed for his foot soon...



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Reply #24 on: June 04, 2012, 04:53:49 AM
I wish more modern stories were built like this classic - stories about people facing new circumstances due to a previously unexplored scientific concept.   It feels like too many SciFi authors these days have been whipped into thinking they need to build elaborate worlds with complex interpersonal relationships -- and the actual science is relegated to the shadows.

Hawksbill Station by contrast had it all, and I especially liked that Silverberg mostly avoided the entire question that is central to so many SciFi time travel stories nowadays -- namely whether changes in the past create branching universes, changes in the past are meaningless because "they already happened" and thus free will is somewhat of an illusion, or does the universe somehow always try to "balance things out."   Here, as others have pointed out, they sent a handful of guys back with no women, and the spot where they were living would be under the ocean for millions of years.

The one major plot flaw that glared at me after thinking about the story is, once the spy reported what he found, why would the folks "up front" not send him or others further back -- to rescue the political prisoners sooner -- before many of them snapped?