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Clifford D. Simak – Way Station

Title: Way Station
Author: Clifford D. Simak
Year: 1963

Everything around Civil War veteran Enoch Wallace ages, withers and dies, yet he and the house built buy his father remains untouched. Of course, such a phenomenon can only go unnoticed for so long, and finally the eyes of government agencies are drawn to the American countryside dwelling. The truth is that Enoch is the warden of a way station along a route used for interstellar travel, something he has done without trouble for over a century, but when he is accused of kidnapping the neighbour’s deaf-mute daughter, this is only the beginning of many crises.

Clifford D. Simak’s Way Station is about many things: the cold war, violence and peace. It is also about loneliness. Way Station is the musings of an old man, withdrawn from social company, yet in touch with a broader existence beyond the skies. As such, it is well written and these themes are well presented. Wallace himself is an interesting character and the reader approach him through the eyes of outside watchers, which tightens the mystery before the actual story begins.

Regardless of these words of praise, I perceive two main problems with this novel. Firstly, there are too many subplots. I normally rant about novels being too long, not the other way around. Still, Way Station would have been better if it would have had fewer subplots (or if it would have been longer, but I refuse to admit there is such a notion as novels needing to be longer). These various plots are interesting in themselves, but feel dislodged and not smoothly pieced together. Sure, most of them come together at the end, but it still feels abrupt and somewhat brutish. Secondly, the events themselves are not that interesting or unique. I recognise that the focus of the novel is not the alien innovations in Enoch’s cupboards or the galactic conspiracy, yet these do not add very much to the experience.

To summarise, Way Station is well written and contains interesting characters, but it lacks ingenuity in certain areas. I understand that the latter might be a coincidence (I do not happen to like this particular setting), but that the former is not. Simak is definitely an author worth giving a second chance, but I can only go as far as granting him three and a half snails for Way Station.

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  1. Martin’s avatar

    Despite your criticism I feel urged to read this. The plot seems nice and I, if I understand everything correctly, would probably like the setting. I’m not very fond of SF that has no connection whatsoever to the real world and maybe that’s why I like A scanner darkly and Flowers for Algernon (any suggestions on similar SF is more than welcome!).


  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    As a science fiction aficionado I would of course like to point out that the goal of most SF is to be highly connected to the real world, perhaps in a certain way more so than other genres.

    Still, I understand that that was not what you meant (I assume you meant setting or something close to it). If you want to keep close to reality on those terms, I have a few recommendations. Have you read A Clockwork Orange, for instance?