Monday, June 12, 2006

The Way Station by Clifford Simak

I just finished reading Clifford Simak's "Way Station", a Hugo Award winning novel written in 1963. The book was very good, and in some respects stayed far away from science fiction, using it not to show off the author's idea of what the rest of the universe is like, but to tell his story and explore issues about war, religion, pain, and human nature, particularly Midwestern human nature. I'm not even sure it was necessary to give the main character a sort of alien-bestowed immortality, or an impervious to damage house, or a holodeck shooting range that pretokened Star Trek TNG - the story stuck together without it, although the main character's (Enoch's) lengthened life did serve to make him both more human, while simultaneously severing him from the bulk of humanity.

It was very interesting to see how dated the technology in even a Hugo book can become after 43 years. Enoch spends a significant amount of time belaboring the fact that he can't share what he's learned from aliens with the rest of the earth because there's no way to anonymously disperse it through academic channels. Now, he'd just go to a coffee house and fire off a copy to the correct professor he found on the internet. Times do change.

Overall, however, I was left with the feeling of an X-files episode and, if this were optioned now, I imagine that's what it would have been. There's a special agent who doesn't really understand what's going on, but knows it's something mysterious and has to do with aliens and an old Civil War veteran who lives in the woods of Wisconsin and doesn't seem to be aging, but has a grave with what looks to be alien writing on it. When push comes to shove, and the codger needs back a body that was taken for examination, it's returned by the agent, no questions asked (just considered), with an implicit trust that he's doing something in the interest of human kind. I kept expecting Scully to show up on the next page, but I think she was more readily personified by the mute girl who's spent her life possessed of a faith she couldn't understand until aliens became a part of her life. Guess it could have benefited from a few genetically modified bees.

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