Friday, August 27, 2010

Way Station

Way Station, written in 1963 by Clifford D. Simak, is my new favorite book. After two readings, I am reluctantly—very, very reluctantly—going to return it to the library this weekend. It reminds me so much of the style of Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies Detective Series. The tone is very gentle and thoughtful. I don’t know how to begin to describe why I love the book. The process is like dissecting a rose; you have lots of parts but have lost the essence of what makes a rose a rose.

Briefly, at the end of the Civil War, Enoch is approached by an alien from another planet to run a way station where aliens will briefly stop over on their trips. Without going into detail, the technology is similar to the Star Trek transporter in that it doesn’t involve flying saucers. At this point, Enoch has fought in the war and also lost his parents. He is a man who doesn’t know what he will do next with his life. So, unbeknownst to all the other humans, his childhood home is turned into a way station.

For the next hundred years Enoch runs the station, preparing for visitors, accommodating them for a couple of hours, and then sending them on their way to the next station. Many times the travelers visit with Enoch and teach him about their planet, including their science, culture, and art. They may bring Enoch a small gift, which he may or may not understand what it is. After each traveler leaves, Enoch writes a detailed description of the experience. As one might imagine, Enoch’s home is filled with journals and extraterrestrial gifts. Other than some pieces of wood he has given as cryptic gifts, he has shared none of this with another human.

While in the station, Enoch does not age. Enoch lives in a rural area. His only contact with the rest of the world is his hour-long walk to and from his mailbox, where he chats with the mailman and observes nature around him.

Of course the story revolves around a couple of days when everything seems to go to hell.

I am attracted to the thoughtful introspection of Enoch. I am attracted to Simak’s point of view that humans/aliens are essentially good and loving. I am attracted to Enoch’s world of wonder. Imagine a life of meeting new and fascinating beings as part of your job and life, of continuously learning new things, of regularly having experiences that challenge your concept of reality.--One night when I couldn’t sleep, I thought “if I were Enoch, who might I have met today and what might I have experienced.”-- So much of science fiction is apocalyptic. I need science fiction that has hope and heart. I want to feel that the future can yield something good. I want to live in the world of the Way Station.

P.S. Happy 100th post to me.

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