Aili's Reviews > Way Station

Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
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Aug 30, 2007

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Read in August, 2007

Don't get me wrong -- I really enjoyed this book. But since City, also by Clifford Simak, is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time, I was unfortunately comparing it. And Way Station, though it has an awesome premise and a psychologically complex main character, unfortunately falters in the narrative department about halfway through the book and never quite recovers.

Short version: a soldier in the American Civil War comes home to Wisconsin and is randomly tapped to secretly run a transportation unit for a vast interstellar alien government. One upside is that he becomes effectively immortal -- so he's still doing it 100 years later, when the CIA catches up with him.

Good stuff: the premise! Is awesome. The portrait of Enoch as a tired soldier and lover of humanity, its strengths and foibles, is great. The description of rural Wisconsin, of all things, is very well written. The various alien beings are well described and interesting (and like most aliens, are often most interesting in their contrast with humans, and what that says about the author's view of humans). It was also nice to see that the themes developed in City -- artificial intelligence, immortality, what makes a human human, do we have a future as a species -- show up here as well. I hadn't read any other Simak except City, so the mirrored themes here help me better grasp Simak as a writer.

Not so good: I guess Simak was mostly a writer of short stories rather than novels. It shows: the main plot starts out strong, but is slowed and eventually derailed by a weird and unnecessary subplot involving manufactured ghosts and unrequited love (the rest of the book is pretty romance free, unless you count love of humanity which is a major theme) and an endless chapter detailing, basically, a hunting expedition on a Holodeck. I suppose when the book was published the hunting bit might have been mind-blowing. But maybe because it's been ripped off so much, the detailed description of a futuristic device that makes an empty room into an illusion of a danger-filled alien planet just seems like old news. The story also lacks a strong climax -- rather, the excitement builds and then kind of implodes, and then leaches away.

Overall: Pretty solid classic science fiction, but disappointingly not as awesome as City. Go read City right now.
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