Time travel is one of Robert Silverberg’s favorite themes and he gives us three of his best time travel novels, and an introduction to each, in the collection Times Three from Subterranean Press.
Hawksbill Station (1968) is about a camp for 21st century American political dissidents who are permanently exiled to… the late Cambrian era. Hawksbill Station is a stark and lonely place — it’s all rocks, ocean, and trilobites. With no meat, no women, and no way back, most of the men eventually go mad. Every once in a while they get supplies and news from Up Front when a new exile arrives. One day a new guy shows up and he’s acting rather suspiciously. What could this mean for Hawksbill Station?
This is a story about freedom of speech, friendship, lost love, disenfranchisement, the struggle to survive, hope, and contentment. As an aside, I’d like to mention that I’m sincerely grateful that the real 21st century United States political system looks nothing like the possible one that Robert Silverberg imagined in 1968! Hawksbill Station is 142 pages in my proof copy and it’s based on the short story “Hawksbill Station” which was a runner up for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in 1967.
Up the Line (1969) is a long and lusty piece (209 pages) about the paradoxes of time travel. Jud Elliott, an expert on the Byzantine Empire, lives in the year 2059 and he’s just been hired as a Time Courier — he takes tourists back in time to visit the high and low points of Byzantine history. Since he is constantly traveling back to the same events with different groups of tourists, he has to be careful about paradoxes such as the Cumulative Audience Paradox (e.g., all of the thousands of tourists watching Christ’s crucifixion are now part of the original audience), the Paradox of Transit Displacement, and the Ultimate Paradox. (After reading Up the Line, I am fairly convinced of the impossibility of time travel.)
Unfortunately, Jud gets a little sloppy when he falls in love with one of his own ancestors and this leads to a hilarious series of time-travel paradoxes and an unforgettable ending. Up the Line is fast, funny, and full of vibrant history. (It’s also full of sex, including incest and pedophilia, which I really could have done without.)
Project Pendulum (1987) is a shorter work (94 pages) about twins, one a paleontologist and one a physicist, who’ve been chosen to be the guinea pigs in the first human time travel experiment. Scientists have connected laboratory versions of a black hole and a white hole so that two similar people can be sent through time in a series of opposing ever-widening jumps, like pendulum swings. So, at first, Sean goes forward 5 minutes while Eric goes backward 5 minutes, then the pendulum swings and Sean goes backward 5 x 102 minutes while Eric goes forward 5 x 102 minutes, etc. Eventually, both twins should get to 95 million years in the past/future and then should return back to the present in the opposite way that they went, hitting all the same places that their twin had been on his trip.
Not only is the fast and furious juxtaposition of the history and future of the human race fascinating to watch and speculate about, but Project Pendulum is also a beautiful story about brotherly love and the special bond between twins.
Though the stories in Times Three are each about time travel, they’re completely different in tone and each offers something unique to the theme. This is a must-read for Silverberg fans, and for anyone who dreams of traveling through time.