Simak, Clifford D. Way Station.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963.

Even though his novels might be set in space, I always think of the late great Clifford Simak as a “pastoral” science fiction author, because of the simplicity of his settings. His characters seem simple, too, at first, but then their complexities blossom in the narrative.

This is certainly the case with Enoch Wallace, veteran of Gettysburg, now living in a particularly isolated corner of Wisconsin, near the Mississippi. Yes, he’s more than 120 years old, and still looks about thirty. He stays in or near his house (built by his father) at all times, a mystery to his few neighbors. His only outside contact is the mailman, who also runs occasional small errands for him. But Enoch gets all his other supplies from his employer, the Galactic Council. Because his house is impregnable and is not at all what it seems. As his first off-planet visitor explained to him back around 1870, “Think of it this way. This is just another railroad and the Earth is just another town and this house will be the station for this new and different railroad. The only difference is that no one on Earth but you will know the railroad’s here.” While Wallace is a natural loner — that’s largely why he was recruited — he also subscribes to numerous magazines and journals and buys many books by mail. He keeps up with things, especially in the sciences. But again, most of the things that really interest him come by way of his frequent alien visitors, transported by a machine whose operation Enoch doesn’t begin to understand. Some of those visitors are humanoid, some are extremely alien, but to him, they’re all just people.

And then, as he feared would one day happen, a passing government agent hears rumors about the undying recluse and begins poking around, and soon Enoch has company he definitely doesn’t want. And then the watchers become meddlers and suddenly Earth is in greater danger than anyone but Enoch could possibly understand.

It’s a quiet, very humane story and I’ve read it probably half a dozen times over the years. Simak won the International Fantasy Award for City, but this won won the Hugo and I think it’s by far his best book.

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