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Literature / Way Station

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Way Station 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 '60s, this Pastoral Science Fiction 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 Galactic Center. You see, Enoch is the caretaker of a way station in the 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 straight-up 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. Which means he only ages 1-2 hours per day or 4-8 years since he got the job. Explained as some kind of Time Dilation Field that only affects aging processes. Rip Van Winkle is mentioned, even.
  • 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 Atoner: This is the first suggestion of the investigator to explain Enoch's oddities: living frugally in an old shack, never entering his house and never leaving the place, despite having means to do so. The first discrepancy is that the shack has no traces of the notebooks and ink Enoch keeps buying.
  • Badass Bookworm: Book lover, compulsive writer and amateur philosopher and scientist, but don't forget Enoch is a Civil War Veteran, too.
  • Bad Future: Enoch's calculations show the global war to be unavoidable. 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:
    • Enoch's "rifle range" is a holodeck, where he hunts alien beasts. This proves critical in the penultimate chapter.
    • Lucy's psychic healing talent makes her a good Talisman operator. In a time, when nobody else is fit for this job. And that forces aliens to come out of hiding and start solving Earth problems.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Outright Magitek in the case of the Shadow Conjuration of Alphard XXII.
  • Good Hurts Evil: In this case just really scares. Lucy Fisher's father runs away, when the Talisman is activated. Other people's reaction is much milder or completely positive.
  • 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: Mary, a "conjured shadow", with whom Enoch fell in love. When he found a way to make her solid, she left for good.
  • Loners Are Freaks: The neighbors try to keep their distance from Enoch as much as they can.
  • Meaningful Name: Old Testament patriarch Enoch "walked with God: and he was no more; for God took him", which is interpreted as being the first man to enter Heaven after Adam. The apocrypha attributed to Enoch describe heavens. Enoch Wallace is the first man to enjoy the wonders of Galactic Center.
  • Monster Clown: Subverted. Ulysses literally looks like this: his mouth without lips looks more of a gaping slash wound than an actual mouth; it's full of shark-like teeth; random colorful spots cover his face. Despite this, he couldn't be further from being a Monster Clown as he's one of the most amicable characters introduced.
  • 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.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Shadows. There's nothing shadowy or ghostlike about them, they look quite solid and substantial. It's just a label Enoch invented for imaginary people conjured through thaumaturgical techniques of Alphard XXII.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Talisman. All attempts to duplicate it failed.
    The mystic who made it left no blueprints, no plans, no specifications, not a single note. There is no one who knows anything about it.
  • Not So Imaginary Friends / Tulpa: Enoch learned how to conjure illusionary people he calls "shadows" (despite them looking quite solid and of normal color). They started out as his puppets, but eventually gained personalities and independence. In the end Enoch learned how to make shadow people real, but they all left him, believing a toy and a toymaker cannot forget their mutual past and see each other as equals.
  • Pastoral Science Fiction: Science fiction set in the countryside in an idyllic rural ambiance. Simak is the Trope Namer, chiefly in describing this book.
  • Portal Network: Galactic Center operates it. The reason why they came to Earth is they needed a way station to circumnavigate a dust cloud.
  • 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.
  • Slice of Life: A unique life, though. Much of the novel is Enoch going through his daily routine as a keeper of a Portal Network way station. Then problems start to pile up, namely: a passing traveller dies, a passing mathematician confirms Enoch's calculations about the inevitability of nuclear war, a CIA investigator suggests Enoch abandons the station, Lucy Fischer has troubles at home, and to top it all, the thief tries to hide on Earth with stolen Talisman.
  • The Speechless: Lucy is mute. And her parents didn't bother to teach her a sign language. Or to write.
  • Soulless Bedroom: The shed where Enoch supposedly lives. The investigator correctly deduces it is a decoy, but fails to find the door into Enoch's real home.
  • 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.
  • A Taste of the Lash: How Lucy's father disciplines her. Enoch isn't amused.
  • Twinmaker: The way teleporters work. All the information is transmitted by faster-than-light radiation together with the soul, the new body is built at destination, and the original body is dissolved in acid.
  • Weaponized Stench: Seems to be the thief's natural weapon to use when desperate. Enoch almost faints. The idea matches the setting pretty well — what would rural America be without skunks?
  • 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.
  • Zeerust: The Federation uses engraved metal sheets for record-keeping, and something remarkably similar to a fax machine for interstellar communication. The virtual hunts are non-interactive, and when an enemy kills Enoch, he does not know until the game ends and he checks the film.