I Recently Finished Reading: Way Station

Way stationI picked up this book when I first started going through the Hugo Awards, and I remember that it really changed my perspective on what science fiction could be. This was the first sci-fi novel I had read that was more about ideas than about story. Way Station focuses on a single man maintaining a rest stop for interstellar travelers. The ideas of a galactic fraternity, religion, and what it means to be a human amid other intelligent beings were just as fascinating on this read through as they were they first time.

The protagonist, Enoch, is a well rounded and introspective character. The book details his calm and long lasting struggle with being the sole point of contact between the Earth and the galactic community. Most of the narrative in the book revolves around Enoch’s thoughts and interactions, both with humans and aliens. He isn’t perfect, but he’s experienced and thoughtful, which leads to very measured responses to the situations that face him. What I found interesting is that even though the entire book is focused on this one man, I didn’t really feel like I knew him. When reading the book, you see glimpses of his past, his relationships, and his goals, but they’re just glimpses. They are enough to give context for why he’s doing something, but not enough to fully develop him. By the end of the book, he’s still a bit of an enigma, which is fitting.

The pace of the novel is slow, but it doesn’t drag. Most of the events happen over the course of a few days, but since the narrative is mostly from Enoch’s thoughts, it covers many years. Enoch’s memories cover nearly one hundred years of time, and most of his interactions take place in that span.

When I first read the novel, it immediately became one of my favorites. After reading it again, I am still comfortable in saying that it’s one of the best novels to ever win the Hugo Award. I often tell people that one of the reasons I read science fiction is because it’s one of the only genres that can explore the human condition by comparing it to other intelligent, sentient beings. Way Station is probably the best novel I’ve read that does that.

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