Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Alien visitors…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Way Station 2As a young man, Enoch Wallace fought at Gettysburg. When the war was over, he returned to his parents’ farm in Wisconsin, soon finding himself alone there after the death of his father. One day, he met a stranger who put a strange proposition to him. Ulysses, as Enoch named him, was a being from another world, a representative of the Galactic Council, who wanted to set up a way station on Earth for intergalactic travellers wishing to explore this remote sector of the galaxy. Ulysses had chosen Enoch to be in charge of the way station because of his interest in the stars and his readiness to accept new ideas. Enoch accepted, and now, nearly a hundred years later, Enoch is still running the way station, and he’s still a young man. It is his seemingly eternal youthfulness that has at last attracted the interest of US Intelligence…

First published in 1963, this, like much of the science fiction of the Cold War era, is steeped in the fear of nuclear holocaust. The world is on the brink of another war, about to hold a last-ditch Peace Conference that no one expects to succeed. Enoch longs for Earth to be able to join the Galactic Confraternity because he has glimpsed some of the wonders out there and wants his fellow humans to be able to access the accumulated knowledge of a myriad of civilisations. But he knows that war will destroy the chance of that – only worlds that have moved beyond constant wars are invited in.

Enoch lives a solitary life on the farm. When he is inside the station – which used to be the family home and still looks that way to the outside world – he doesn’t age, but outside he does, so he restricts his outings to an hour a day, and his only real contact is with the mailman who brings him whatever he needs in the way of supplies. It’s an isolated, sparsely populated community, who keep themselves to themselves, so his apparent non-ageing is quietly ignored by his neighbours. But when an incident brings him into conflict with one of those neighbours, his anonymity is threatened. And on top of this, something has happened on Earth that has offended an alien race and the Galactic Council are threatening to withdraw from the sector. Enoch must decide whether to stay with humanity, and age and die, or leave Earth forever.

classics club logo 2Book 76 of 90

This starts out slowly with a lot of information about the way station and Enoch’s life, all of which is interesting and much of it highly imaginative. After a bit, though, I began to long for the appearance of a plot, and happily it turned up just before I lost patience. As we get to know more about the Galactic Confraternity, we see that it isn’t quite as perfect as Enoch had thought – things are beginning to go wrong, and just like on Earth there are squabbles and power struggles arising within it.

Clifford D Simak
Clifford D Simak

The writing is excellent and the characterisation of Enoch is considerably more complex than is often the case in science fiction of this period. The concept of the way station allows for all kinds of imaginative aliens to visit, and Simak makes full use of the opportunity, plus the actual method of intergalactic travel is both fascinating and disturbing – personally I’ll wait till they get Star Trek-style matter transference working, I think! Although Enoch often has alien company, we see his desire for human contact too, and the impossibility of this without endangering his secret. As the plot progresses, it develops a kind of mystical, new-age aspect – an odd mix of the spiritual with the technological, and a hint of supernatural thrown in for good measure, but although that makes it sound messy, it all works together well. The ending is too neat, but the journey there is thought-provoking in more ways than one. The book won the 1964 Hugo Award for Best Novel – well deserved, in my opinion.

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34 thoughts on “Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

  1. I don’t think I’ll ever be a big reader of sci-fi but this does sound an interesting exploration of the worries at the time around nuclear war. I really enjoyed your review FF, even though I probably won’t pick up the book!

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    • Thank you! I’m not a huge sci-fi reader either and definitely prefer the older stuff which was really just a different way of looking at contemporary issues. Now an awful lot of SF is simply shoot-em-ups in space.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like such an interesting piece of speculative fiction, FictionFan. I’m usually very particular about the spec. fic. I read, because it’s not my first choice of genre. But this sounds like a really interesting premise. And I do like stories where the real truth of something is uncovered bit by bit…

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    • I much prefer the sci-fi of this era to contemporary SF – I think the Cold War authors in particular were good at finding different way to look at their own society. Simak seems to be better at characterisation than a lot of them were too, which is an added bonus. This one deserves its classic status, I think.

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    • Yes, it did take a long time for the story to really get underway, didn’t it? I haven’t read much Bradbury, but keep meaning to – one day! I wish they would invent a time-machine that would let me go back and have an extra few years of reading time to catch up! 😉

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  3. Hasn’t this author appeared in at least one of our anthologies? Despite the slow beginning, it sounds good! I might have to check out my options….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You have motivated me to find one of my copies of this book and read it sometime soon. (I bought one copy at a book sale, and the other online.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh good, I hope you enjoy it! I really like the sci-fi of this post-WW2 Cold War era – they seemed to find such imaginative ways to look at their society’s contemporary concerns.

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    • Would you? Oh, I think I would choose to leave Earth and learn more about the universe! In fact, there are many times when I wish I could leave Earth – usually when I’m watching the news… 😉

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    • I know! And because he was stuck inside the way station, he really only saw how the world was changing from newspapers and magazines. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi either but I like an occasional one, especially from this era of the ’50s and ’60s which always seems like SF’s Golden Age to me.

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  5. Interesting set-up. And I should add that you never want U.S. intelligence to take an “interest” in you. Flying well under the radar is always advised. I’ll have to ask my SCI-Fi family members whether they’ve read this one.

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    • Hahaha, great advice! But in line with the whole ’50s thing, the Intelligence officer in this book was a morally upright, decent, kind human being who cared deeply about his fellow citizens. Maybe I should have listed it under Fantasy… 😉

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    • I’ve enjoyed adding a few classic sci-fi books to my classics club list this time, though I’ve had a pretty mixed reaction to them. This one was very good though – lots of imaginative stuff!

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  6. I approach SciFi warily but there does seem to be enough of interest to draw me into this story and ponder on its 50s setting. It’ll be on the long list rather than the short one though 🙂

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    • I have mixed feelings about sci-fi too, especially novels. It always seems to me to work better in short stories, a bit like horror. However when it does work, it can be a really interesting way to look at ordinary concerns from a different perspective, like the nuclear war concerns in this one.

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  7. I like science fiction though I have to pace myself with the classics, because often they will have amazing worldbuilding and very minimal plot – which I am sometimes in the mood for, but it grates after a while. It sounds like this stays on the right side of that balance, though, so it’s definitely appealing!

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    • It’s usually the flat characterisation that puts me off older sci-fi, so this was a treat because the main character was quite well developed. On the whole, I think sci-fi is better suited to the short story format, but when it does work in a novel, it can give an interesting perspective on the time it was written.

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