(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In Way Station, the Hugo Award-winning novel for 1964, Clifford D. Simak presents a paradox that typifies his science fiction: an acknowledgment of the necessity of the consciousness-raising attendant on contact with an interstellar civilization without abandonment of the love of home that any good ambassador must have. The paradox has implications for Simak’s style as well as characterization in this novel. Whereas other science-fiction writers describe the vastness of space and the exoticism of other worlds, most of the extensive description in Way Station takes in the sylvan beauty of southwestern Wisconsin, where Simak was born.

In many ways, Simak is the William Faulkner of science fiction. The similarity is not one of style, though there are two descriptive passages in Way Station (one in the middle of chapter 7 and one at the end of chapter 35) that rival Faulkner. Both describe Enoch meditating on the river that runs through his neighborhood. Simak approaches Faulkner, however, not so much stylistically as in creating a sense of place. As Faulkner did for southern Mississippi, Simak creates in Way Station a sense of connection between the land and characters of rural Wisconsin. It is his rootedness that, ironically, makes Enoch Wallace an ideal liaison with alien civilizations. Because he knows he is a part of something outside himself, he is able to accept creatures radically different from himself as a part...

(The entire section is 523 words.)