is a relatively short novel written by Clifford Simak
in 1963, winner of a 1964 Hugo Award and barely mentioned today... except for the shameless borrowing of ideas later authors got from it, such as glowy beautiful humanoid aliens whose lifeforce manifests as an aura and become emaciated, ugly things when dead, holographic simulation rooms
and sentient solid holograms who come to realize they are just constructs and aliens mindwiping Mankind to prevent its self-destruction.
Set in The Sixties
, the book chronicles three hectic days in the long life of Enoch Wallace, who lives as an hermit in Southwest Wisconsin , rarely leaving his home but for a daily evening stroll. He has lived there for so long that he has become a local legend, and he's rumored to be immortal. This piques the curiosity of a CIA agent who decides to investigate the rumor, and finds something really interesting in Enoch's backyard. Something that ignites an intergalactic
incident at a very critical moment
for both Earth and The Federation
. You see, Enoch is the caretaker of a way station in said Federation galaxy-spanning teleporting network, and has been on the job since the end of the American Civil War.
The book is filled with Simak's trademark style, with a foot firmly planted in Hard SF and the other on plain old sense of wonder. He was a master of the rare Slice of Life
science-fiction and it's at its best in this work, while at the same time hinting at events of galactic scope just around the corner and populating the galaxy with memorable alien species with just a few lines.
Contains examples of:
- The Ageless: Enoch doesn't age while he's inside the station.
- Agent Mulder: What would you call a CIA agent that goes undercover to check on a rumor about immortals on the hills of Wisconsin?
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated: Aliens generally find human food disgusting if not poisonous. Ulysses is an exception; he comes from a species that can live anywhere and eat anything and thinks that Earth coffee is actually the best brew in the Universe.
- Aliens Speaking English: Averted. Only Ulysses, Enoch's direct supervisor, does speak English.
- Always Lawful Good: The Hazers are described as positively angelic.
- The American Civil War: There's a flashback to Enoch in Gettysburg and an Info Dump on his whole military career early in the novel.
- Badass Bookworm: Book lover, compulsive writer and amateur philosopher and scientist, but don't forget Enoch is a Civil War Veteran, too.
- Bad Future: And the only way to avert it might be a worldwide Mind Wipe.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Enoch is slow to anger, but can be nasty when enraged.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Any of the Earth animals is much closer to mankind than any alien race described, although several alien species are perfectly capable of living on Earth without technological help.
- Chekhov's Skill: Those years of holodeck hunting will pay. Also, Lucy's psychic talent.
- Clarke's Third Law: Outright Magitek in the case of the Shadow Conjuration of Alphard XXII.
- Closer to Earth: Lucy Fisher.
- The Cold War: And Simak wasn't very optimistic about its outcome.
- Common Tongue: Averted: All species have their own language, and even attempts to create a Con Lang aren't that successful, because there are species that don't use sounds to communicate.
- Conflicting Loyalty: Enoch is slowly forced to choose between his planet and The Federation.
- Conlang: The Galactic Gesture language, named Pasimology in story.
- Cool House: Nigh indestructible and you don't age inside.
- Corrupt Hick: The Fishers, besides Lucy.
- Disability Superpower: Lucy is deaf-mute, and this is somehow linked to her power.
- The Federation: The Galactic Centre.
- First Contact: Probably the more ... mundane First Contact ever.
- Flash Back: Most of the first half of the book are Flashback Echos.
- The Force
- Friend to All Living Things: Lucy Fisher.
- Hard Light
- Healing Hands: Lucy has them as a result of her innocence.
- Humans Are Flawed: Too Hot-Blooded and often prejudiced, but nothing that time won't fix.
- Immortality: The main character is technically immortal (at least immune to age and sicknesses) while he's inside the station's building.
- In-Series Nickname: Ulysses is named after Ulysses S. Grant. His species' naming conventions are too alien for humans to understand.
- The Ingenue: Lucy, of course. No romance side.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Enoch was a man ahead of his time and really open minded. He was ridiculed for that.
- Kiss Me, I'm Virtual
- Loners Are Freaks: The neighbors try to keep their distance from Enoch as much as they can.
- Monster Clown: Ulysses looks like this. He couldn't be further from being one.
- Mundane Utility: Besides soaking for decades on the Galaxy's advanced science and philosophy, Enoch uses his extraterrestrial contacts to obtain ...alien timber for woodcarving. It's also mentioned that if he ever lost his human contacts, he could use alien duplication technology to get eggs and ham.
- Must Have Caffeine: Ulysses has acquired a craving for Earth coffee. He tried to make it grow on his planet, but it doesn't quite taste the same.
- Not So Imaginary Friends
- Portal Network: The reason why The Federation comes to Earth.
- Psychic Powers: Lucy. There are also telepathic alien species, although they are stated to be rare. And there's also the hazers, who not only keep contact with members of their families, and know instantly, from light-year distance, when something happens to them, but also can keep the same contact with their frigging corpses
- Rousseau Was Right: Lucy's disability leads to her having No Social Skills and growing up pure and kind-hearted.
- Satellite Character: Winslow Grant, the postman.
- Slice of Life: A unique life, though.
- Starfish Aliens: Seems to have this as the main idea, as there are only two humanoid species, one of which is a race of natural Genetic Adaptation masters who can live anywhere, so they may be not actually humanoid; another has very bizarre alien biology - they prefer to wear their souls on the outside of their bodies, for one.
- The Voiceless: Lucy.
- Time Dilation Field: Rip Van Winkle is mentioned, even.
- Weirdness Censor: Enoch is barely worth of minor gossiping in his neighborhood. Until he shelters Lucy and the Fishers call for Torches and Pitchforks
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Enoch feels closer to Ulysses and any Hazers than to his human neighbors.
- Whip It Good: Enoch isn't amused by the Fisher's concept of discipline.
- Zeerust: The Federation uses engraved metal sheets for record-keeping, and something remarkably similar to a fax machine for interstellar communication.