Review of Way Station (1963)


Clifford D. Simak (writer).

Read in 2018.

The solitary life of a man who maintains the only galactic way station on Earth. Without the knowledge of the authorities, extraterrestrial bodies are routinely copied over astronomical distances into a single rural residence. The bodies briefly host alien intelligences before these continue on their journeys elsewhere. The same bodies, again lifeless, are destroyed.

In the words of Josh Wimmer (Gizmodo, Blogging the Hugos, “Clifford Simak’s Way Station: A Place to Move On From”, 2010-02-27):

I think it must have been nice to be a science-fiction writer at the time when Way Station was published. Time was still moving relatively slowly (though I’m sure it didn’t feel that way), and you could just write a story without worrying that you hadn’t addressed every single implication and repercussion of the cool ideas you came up with.

There isn’t much plot, the trust placed in a single human being is unmotivated, and it hardly seems wise to put the way station on a populated part of the surface of the planet in the first place, even taking as a given the premise that a way station must exist for regional FTL “travel”. Such flaws notwithstanding, the novel is a pleasant meditation on the Cold War and cosmopolitan curiosity as a force for peace. There are some very nice details along the way, such as the ambiguous rooting of the “hazers” in death, the vivid training exercises, the true appearance of Ulysses and the stupidity apocalypse safeguard.

The mode of teleportation strongly implies mind-body dualism but is somehow appealing in its obvious inelegance and highly specific labour. Compare 2 Corinthians 5, describing the Christian idea of a second body awaiting each Christian in a prototype for Heaven. Other details are not so good: The evil hillbillies, the all-encompassing art form of the hazers, and the inept intelligence agents.

References here: Star Trek (1966), The Female Man (1975), A Wind Named Amnesia (1990).

text fiction