Sunday, 16 June 2013

'Way Station' by Clifford D Simak

I read this while on holiday in Shropshire. Pastoral SF is the ideal book to read while staying in a country holiday cottage on a farm in rural Shropshire, England! Anyway, here's the review.

"They don't make 'em like they used to" is an apt phrasing fitting many different things, not the least of which is science fiction. Way Station was written in the 1960s, and I can't imagine a book anything like it being written today. I don't think we have anyone like Clifford D Simak writing science fiction today though.

Simak writes 'pastoral sf', a heady mix of technology, philosophy, and a love of backwoods America. He is equally at home describing the beautiful countryside, or the sound of skylarks on a spring day as he is imagining strange aliens, advanced technology and weird science.

Way Station centres around Enoch Wallace, an American Civil War veteran, living in backwoods America, who meets an alien one day and is asked to be the keeper of a Galactic 'waystation' for travellers journeying between the stars. As it is not a part of the Galactic community, Earth is off-limits but is a necessary stopping place (like a rest area service station on the motorway or interstate I guess!) Enoch meets many strange creatures and wonderful things, but keeps his feet firmly on the ground of mother Earth. Things stay this way for more than a century with Enoch barely aging. Eventually though, someone's bound to notice...

Way Station isn't a long book, but fits quite a lot in. We learn a bit about the strange - and some not so strange - aliens that Enoch Wallace meets as they travel through his station, and find out something of what he has learned about the galactic community. We get a bit of philosophical musings, and Enoch's worries about the state of humankind, as Earth teeters on the brink of nuclear war (this was written in the 1960s, so at that time nuclear war was a very real and dangerous threat). Slowly though, Enoch's century of peace and quiet is shattered as a crisis builds both on Earth and out in the galaxy too.

Not everyone will love this book. If you like your science fiction full of nasty aliens with big guns, or hot bosom babes with lots of sex in it, you are going to be sorely disappointed and very bored! But if you like experiencing a sense of wonder, a little adventure and aren't a bit put off by the slightly dated historical backdrop and old fashioned technology, you might just enjoy this. It is a classic of golden age science fiction and well worth the reading. I'm giving this 9/10, and will be reading more by Clifford D. Simak soon.