Way Station

Clifford D. Simak


Enoch Wallace had survived the horrors of the American Civil War to return to his family's homestead in Wisconsin. But he'd not been home for long before his parents died. However he was not alone for long, for a stranger comes up to him one night and offers Enoch a job as station keeper. Not on any earthly railroad but a station on Galactic Centre's transmat network and Ulysses (after the general not the Greek!) is an alien who gains a love of Terran coffee in his association with Enoch.

In his transformed home, Enoch doesn't suffer from the ravages of time and a century passed without him noticeably ageing. But there are those that notice Enoch's long life; by-and-large his neighbours know but barely care. The editor of Nature was curious but ultimately powerless. However, a government agent had taken note of Enoch and put a watch on him but it was what was in that grave that really upset the government!

In the world tension is mounting and Enoch reckons it will be war soon. Ulysses tells him that the situation out in the galaxy is little better for the mysterious Talisman has been lost and with it the galactics' ability to touch the inner spirit. Although interested, for all things alien interest Enoch, this is not his main concern for Ulysses also tells him that Earth's station is under threat of closure.

Can he continue working for the aliens or will he take advantage of Ulysses' offer of stupefying humanity in order to forgo the horrors of nuclear war? Or will an unexpected hand change humanity's fate?

This is a rather strange book in a way. Enoch is a man with no place in the world - born in the 1800s and largely isolated from it since the late 1860s, he spends a fair part of his time wondering how much he still has in common with the rest of humanity, but he is not a real part of the galactic organisation he works for either - he has struck up a number of notable friendships with some of the aliens passing through his Way Station, but they are too alien to be fully comprehensible.

Although Mr Simak's ending is basically hopeful, this sense of loneliness is carried through to the final pages.

This is a Gollancz Classic Science Fiction edition

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