I had mentioned in my review of Joanna Russ’s WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO… that it broke a long streak of good reads. That was not entirely true just before that I had read Clifford D. Simak’s WAY STATION. The ending to that was disappointing in two ways.
On the back cover it says at the end
Then he discovered the horror that lay across the galaxy…
I never did discover what this horror was. The story is about Enoch Wallace who secretly runs a way station for aliens of the galaxy traveling through our neck of the woods – they travel by teleportation basically. Enoch Wallace is secured from aging in his home that serves as the way station. He was a soldier in the Civil War and people in the sleepy Wisconsin town talk about him.
The book was written in 1963 and has all the sensitivities of the Cold War era. Mankind is not included in the galactic family because they are deemed a still barbaric race. Wallace worries about the fate of mankind as he learns in the papers (and through his historical/causal calculus that he learned from the aliens) that mankind is headed to an ultimate war.
Several really good plot threads crowd in on Wallace’s 100 year routine of galactic host at his home. Although his home is unassailable by man (again thanks to the aliens) he is accused of kidnapping a young deaf mute girl of the town. They are about to set siege to his place. A government informant has been sniffing around and has committed an action that will result in the closing of the way station and any chance for mankind’s inclusion in the galactic family and any hope of their redemption as barbarians.
No horror from the across the galaxy materializes except for a creature that comes to steal an artifact by “beaming” into the way station and stealing it. It then turns out that this talisman (without proper background given to the reader) is waiting for one to whom it will resonate. That turns out to be the deaf mute girl of Wallace’s acquaintance. It has the power of passivity and peace once it is with it proper host. And mankind averts destruction, peace reigns – the end.
Up until the very last part of the book I really enjoyed it, but the end was a cheat. He had three plot threads very skillfully coming to a head and then he pulls a deux ex machina of a sorts.
And where was the horror from across the galaxy? A single alien?
Next is R.A. Lafferty’s SERPENT’S EGG.
I am not going to give a proper review of this book, I will leave that to the excellent Lafferty site The Ants of God are Queer Fish.
This book is very similar to EAST OF LAUGHTER, it is a search for reality, a way of looking at the world. I found East of Laughter to be a lot easier to grasp than Serpent’s Egg. I also don’t think I was up to the task this time. Many people say that Lafferty is best in his short story form. It takes a lot of effort on his and the reader’s part to sustain all that he brings to bear.
It takes constant reminding that the extravagant nuttiness in the book is part of the metaphysical theme. One tends to just accept the bizarre as window dressing and thereby miss a great deal.
But even still if a great deal goes over my head (and it usually does when reading Lafferty) it is always a most memorable trip and a joy to read. You can’t forget this stuff.
And like everything I have read by Lafferty, it is prime for a second reading.
On deck now (on page 53) is Robert Silverberg’s HAWKSBILL STATION. So far it is really quite good. Political undesirables are punished by being sent back 1 billion years in time before the first creatures come to land. It is a one way trip. The people in the 21st century do not even know if any of the people sent survive the journey, but they send them stuff anyway. I really like Silverberg. I can’t remember if I gave a review of THE WORLD INSIDE but that also was very good.