May 122019
 

Way Station, by Clifford D. Simak

Synopsis: An immortal loner operates a secret way-station on Earth for aliens using it as a stop in their galactic teleportation hops.

Book Review: I would say this award-winning book has aged poorly, but it’s hard to imagine it was ever good. The majority of the action is an old loner wandering the old woods with his old dog and being really stoic about everything. He takes almost no action, says very little, and emotes even less. In almost every scene he could be replaced by a block of styrofoam that’s learned how to whittle wood and nothing would’ve changed.

Fear not, though, as the author is equal-opportunity with his lack of characterization. The primary female character is literally deaf and dumb, and exists solely to let the protagonist feel good about saving her, and then saving the universe through her in-born magic power. She is completely infantile and pure.

The aliens and government agents are likewise either idiotic or just there to chat about folksy stuff with the protagonist.

(spoiler in this paragraph, but I hardly think it matters) — In the end, the entire universe is stripped of all agency because we’re all just warlike or peaceful based on who has control of a magic peace-radiating artifact. Fortunately the evil alien that absconded with the evil artifact comes to earth for no reason at all, and our Magical Female who is the purest and most innocent and, coincidentally, most powerful magic user in the galaxy, can take the artifact from him and make everything cool again. —

If all this wasn’t enough, the book is also just about the worst sort of message-fic there is. I like message-fic when it’s well done, and this was not. It’s message is never given any sort of emotional narrative to make us feel it. Nor does it present a world in which the message is important to the plot and characters. It basically simply states “If you all believed in this philosophy, we’d have universe peace.” And that philosophy is… “Hey man, it’s all good. We should all just chill out and like, get along. Make love, not war.”

It reminded me of The Man From Earth, a horrible movie that seems to have been made by a hippie just to say the same thing. A super-old and super-wise professor reveals that he was a caveman and just never aged or died, and discovered over the millenia that if we would all just, like, get along, everything would be groovy, man. And also, he was Jesus, but he didn’t die of the crucifixion. So like, even Jesus agrees that we should all get along. Take that, viewers!

Not recommended.

Book Club Review: Nobody else in my book club found this nearly as offensive as I did. I think that’s primarily because I like message fiction, and so I take it as a personal slight when it’s done so badly. To them it was just a short, outdated old book. A few of them even appreciated the easy-going pace, and considered it an interesting window onto early-1960s culture.

There was a bit of conversation around the book, but it was mainly driven by its various flaws. That sounds worse than I mean it… the flaws aren’t that glaring (for most people). But they’re the only really interesting things to talk about, because where the book isn’t flawed it’s just pleasant. (Again, in the view of those who enjoyed it). And there’s not much to say about something that’s pleasant. You sit out on a porch and watch the clouds go by with an iced tea, and that’s nice, but you don’t talk about doing that, you just do it and enjoy it.

So, while the book itself is an interesting waystone in the evolution of SF literature, and it’s short and reads quickly, I don’t really think it has enough to it to recommend it for a book club. Thus, not recommended.

  2 Responses to “SF/F Review – Way Station”

  1. Hmm. That’s disappointing to hear. I had this on my “to read” list, and have already bought the book. I may just go ahead and read it anyway since its part of the project of reading all the hugo winners. About how long did it take to read?

    • Not too long, it’s fairly short, and not very difficult. I can’t really give an estimate, because my reading is broken up and scattered across a couple weeks. But it wasn’t at all bad. If you do read it, I’d be interested if/how your opinion differs. :)

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