Hugo Review: Way Station by Clifford D. Simak
One of the things that I love about science fiction is that I never really know what to expect when beginning a story. Listening to the descriptions of Way Station by Clifford D. Simak on the cover I expected a story that was a traditional story about aliens in science fiction. It might have been an adventure or conflict. There are some small elements of this but that is not what this story is. In fact most of this story takes place in a single room and often inside the head of the main character more than anything else.
The story begins setting up a character who then disappears for much of the story. A CIA agent who has discovered a man who has been alive since the Civil War but shows no outward signs of being anything but a quiet man who never seems to leave his home. This is important though because it sets up a danger because through much of the story there is not a lot of actual danger.
The story then switches to Enoch. Enoch is running a Way Station for an alien transportation technology. The idea is that their technology allows them to move more or less instantly but thee is a limited range. They teleport into the small house and Enoch helps to take care of them. Talking to them and learning from them.
This leads to one of the major themes of this book which is an understanding of just how little Enoch and humans in general know. The man has spent a hundred years reading newspapers and talking to people who have far more technology and even has a room full of highly technological gadgets yet he still doesn't understand even more than a hint of it. This theme of him not understanding is one that science fiction often misses with scientists, captains and explorers who seem to know everything or at least have a computer that does yet the universe is simply way to big for any human to understand more than the tiniest of fraction of the universe.
The other theme is loneliness. This is a very difficult theme to pull off because in order to do so the character has to be alone a lot of the time. The other reason is that stories about things like loneliness are often not at all fun to read. This story manages to balance that very well and you get the feeling of isolation of knowing something no one else does both in the main character and the deaf mute who is one of his only friends and also very isolated. Part of the reason that this story is able to be about that isolation is because it isn't so much about being lonely as it about the end of that isolation and focuses on the understanding of his loyalties rather than benig alone.
The end of this story was a bit to easy to predict for me which is one of the only major flaws. There is a problem which is set up with only one possible solution and then that solution is found. That said there are a lot of other things that were surprises and a ton of interesting ideas in this story and I actually cared about most of the characters which meant that I cared about even the minor things that happened.