|Author:||Clifford D. Simak|
|Publisher:||Old Earth Books|
Neighbors saw Enoch Wallace as an ageless hermit, striding across his untended farm as he had done for over a century, still carrying the gun with which he had served in the Civil War. They must never know that inside his unchanging house, he met and conversed with a host of unimaginable friends from the farthest stars.
More than a hundred years before, an alien being named Ulysses had recruited Enoch as the keeper of Earth’s only galactic transfer station. Now Enoch studied the progress of Earth as he tended the tanks where the aliens appeared, and the charts he made indicated that his world was doomed to destruction. His alien friends could only offer help that seemed worse than the dreaded disaster.
Then he discovered the horror that lived across the galaxy…
Clifford Simak was raised in Wisconsin, and his science fiction combines galactic scope with nostalgia for the old American Midwest. Way Station (1963) is a fine example of this unlikely mix, and probably his best novel—it won him a Hugo award.
Its hero Enoch Wallace first appears as a mystery man: an impossibly young-looking Civil War veteran, 124 years old and still living in his parents’ remote Winconsin farmhouse. Nowadays this building has a glittering, Tardis-like interior, ever since Wallace was recruited by aliens as stationmaster on a minor branch line—not a railway, but Galactic Central’s network of matter transmitters carrying passengers between the stars. Earth isn’t ready for this secret, and countryman Wallace’s best friends are extraterrestrials and ghostly simulations.
When the CIA investigates his reclusive lifestyle, it accidentally stirs up an interstellar diplomatic crisis. Wallace’s job, and his place in the countryside he loves, are suddenly threatened. So are his hopes for persuading Galactic Central to step in and halt our accelerating slide towards nuclear war. (The Cuban missile crisis was then recent history.)
All the story threads converge neatly: the rustic lynch mob, the galactics, the CIA, the unhappy ghosts, the local deaf-and-dumb girl who can charm warts and heal butterflies, and the bizarre virtual-reality rifle range built for Wallace by an alien construction team. There are painful losses, victories, and a final note of lonely hope. It’s a book of great charm—old-fashioned SF, but timeless rather than dated. —David Langford