I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. “Golden Age Sci-Fi” isn’t always something that personally resonates with me. A lot of it is very dated, or rooted in the time period it was written in, or focuses on ideas and themes that aren’t as interesting to me as more modern sci-fi. But this book feels almost timeless, and though I don’t usually care about the prose of a book as much as I do its ability to make me care for its characters and what happens to them, and it’s ability to put a well-structured story arc on the page, this book was absolutely beautifully written in parts. I had the Kindle version (currently free on Kindle Unlimited!) and I highlighted just a bunch of beautiful shit. (I then stupidly returned the book, and because I’m maxed out at my ten book limit right now, can’t get at those highlights. I just need to buy my own hard copy.)
Anyway, this book was just lovely. I’m very tempted to bump up my 4.5 stars to a full five.
So, the book! Way Station is set in the 1960s, when tensions between the US and the USSR are high. Government officials have become aware of a man in rural Wisconsin who seems to have been born in the 1800s, and who was a soldier in the Civil War. As if it weren’t weird enough that this would make the man around 130 years old (if not older), he doesn’t seem to have aged a day since 1865. The government sends out men to investigate, snoop around, really, and find out what the man’s deal is.
Enoch Wallace is indeed a Civil War veteran, and for the past 100 years, he has tended a secret galactic way station. Alien beings from all over the universe use Earth as one of many stopping points on their journeys, and it’s Enoch’s job to host them, care for them, and keep the station in working order. It’s a solitary job, and one he must keep secret from everyone else on Earth, but in return Enoch has been exposed to learning and culture far beyond that of Earth, as long as he remains in the station he doesn’t age, and he has made friends from places so far away he can’t even imagine it.
The main conflict of the book comes when Enoch’s two worlds begin to collide. His seemingly eternal existence, and the fate of the station, are jeopardized when the loss of a precious alien item coincides with the Earth threatening to descend into mutually assured destruction, jeopardizing the future of the human race not only on-planet, but its ability to join the galactic community of enlightened beings.
I liked this book because of the way it mixed the sadness and beauty that is the ephemerality of life, with a hopefulness for the future, and a belief that all beings are good, and should treat one another with respect, endeavoring to understand one another’s differences rather than to react with fear. It wasn’t rosy naivete. I really want to track down a nice copy of this book, because I’ll definitely be revisiting it in the future.
[4.5 stars, rounded up, fuck it, I’m doing it]