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Times Three by Robert Silverberg

01/05/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Times Three in the USA - or Buy Times Three in the UK

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pub: Subterranean Press. 473 page hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-319-8.

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‘Times Three’ is a collection of three Robert Silverberg novels about time travel, a common theme in Science Fiction and one that Silverberg has returned to on a number of occasions. Two of the novels, ‘Hawksbill Station’ and ‘Up The Line’, date from the late sixties, a period when the author did some of his best work. Since he never does bad work, the third novel written in 1987, ’Project Pendulum’, is also a pleasure.

The protagonist of ‘Hawksbill Station’ is Jimmy Barrett. In the present, which for him is the Late Cambrian era, about a billion years ago, he is an inmate of Hawksbill Station, a prison colony. There are no guards. Material to construct rudimentary shelters was sent back in time shortly after the year 2000 by the totalitarian government of the USA and men were sent after it. No women. Time travel only works one way, backwards, so there is no escape. They are all political prisoners and they have constructed a rudimentary society of which Barrett is now chief executive, older men having died. Some prisoners are half crazy, some go on long expeditions to explore the Late Cambrian world and some perform administrative duties. The time machine, the Hammer, is carefully guarded. Then Lew Hahn arrives from the future and things begin to change.

In alternating chapters we learn about Jimmy Barrett’s past. He joined the revolutionary movement in 1984, the 9th year of the Permanent Depression. There were various colleagues among the plotters including Edmund Hawksbill, a brilliant mathematician who believed time travel was possible. Hawksbill - Hawking? I did wonder. Stephen Hawking’s first publication in scientific journals were in 1965, a few years before this was written and Silverberg is the kind of Science Fiction writer who reads scientific journals. Hawking may have caught his eye.

It doesn’t matter. ‘Hawksbill Station’ is an illuminating examination of revolutionary politics and the kind of people it attracts. It is also an interesting study of men under stress in a hopeless situation trying to make meaningful lives.

‘Up The Line’ is completely different and lots of fun. Judson Daniel Elliott III becomes a time courier, a guide escorting tourists around the wonders of the past. Naturally tourists want to visit the big events and although each little group leaves the present on a different day they are all present on the same day in the past. So the large crowd watching the crucifixion is composed mostly of tourists from the future and there is barely room in Ford’s theatre for the crowds who want to see Lincoln shot.

Judson’s area of interest and expertise - and Silverberg’s, I suppose - is the Byzantine Empire so he roams through its history with his groups. He soon discovers that other couriers, old hands, are engaged in various schemes of profitable chicanery or mad schemes to track down all their ancestors. The Time Patrol exist to stop any serious meddling though and the penalty for it is to be deleted from existence. Jud enjoys his job and his having a good time and lots of sex until he falls in love. Various clever paradoxes ensue. This is a fast paced romp with dynamic prose, clever dialogue and entertaining characters. Enjoy.

In ‘Project Pendulum’, a pair of identical twins take part in a time travel experiment. Energy is provided by a miniature black hole and a miniature white hole held in equilibrium and the twins swing backward and forward in time in steadily increasing arcs. The chapter headings tell you where they are: ‘Eric - 5 minutes’, Sean + 5 minutes’ and so on. The progress back and forth is a geometric progression so small jumps quickly become giant leaps. They set off in 2016 so Sean goes back to 2015 and Eric goes forward to 2017. Then Sean goes forward and Eric goes back. Obviously it gets more interesting when they go back a thousand years or a hundred thousand years and very interesting when they go forward millions of years. Silverberg pulls it off with his usual aplomb. This is the most thoughtful of the stories and perhaps the least exciting but well worth reading.

These three good novels amount to just 450 pages, about half the size of most modern books. More is not better. Back in the day they kept it tightly plotted and left out the excess verbiage. This is a magnificent collection by one of the best Science Fiction writers in the history of the universe and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Eamonn Murphy

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