An Audio-Book Review: Grand Central in Wisconsin


Way Station

By Clifford D. Simak

Unabridged edition published by Audible Frontiers

Read by Eric Michael Summerer

Introduction read by Mike Resnick

The Story:

I am tempted to just say, “Go! Read this book!  And then once you have read this one look up all the others Mister Simak ever wrote,” and let it go at that. Not only would that make for a very short review, but I have found that beyond hard core science fiction fans, most people have never heard of him. Even those who know the names Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke may never have encounter Clifford Simak. Hollywood has overlooked his masterpieces and so most of his work has gone unnoticed except in the back halls of the larger Cons.

And that is a shame, because Mister Simak truly ranks with the other, better known masters of fantasy and science fiction and so much of his work holds up over the decades. It should be noted that he won three Hugo Awards a Nebula and was named the third Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, so he did not live without due recognition, but I find it sad that he did not gain the more far reaching fame his colleagues did. Among his best known stories (within that circle of fans who know them at all)  are City,  which takes place in the far future in which there are only dogs and robots left on Earth to debate over whether Man had ever existed or was just a myth. Enchanted Pilgrimage and The Fellowship of the Talisman, rare Simak fantasy novels, Cemetery World, in which Earth is now just one huge cemetery, Mastodonia, Project Pope, Special Deliverance and many more.

Whether one can say Way Station is his best is a matter of taste. Certainly it ranks among his best. In fact, I would venture to say that Simak’s writing was so even that it is impossible to point at a single story and say “That one! That is the best.”

Way Station is one of Simak’s Hugo Winning stories and is about a man named Enoch Wallace. Enoch has lived nearly all of his life on a backwoods farm in Southwest Wisconsin. In 1963 Enoch has come to the attention of a government investigator because, according to records he is one hundred twenty-four years old and the last survivor of the American Civil War. Enoch does not look that old, however, which perhaps is what really threw up the red flags in Washington.

For reasons of their own, aliens have chosen Enoch to manage a sort of Interstellar way station, a place people from other worlds stop at on their ways to other places. The government investigator unknowingly sets off an interstellar situation and the story takes off.

I could go on, but the idea is that you should read (or listen) to the story for yourself and I doubt my synopsis could ever do it justice. In the end, however, the book is typical of Simak and his personal optimism for Mankind.

Whether you are an SF fan or not, this story should be on your “Must Read” list.

The Audiobook:

 

Eric Michael Summerer had one of those rare’ tenor voices that I find interesting to listen to. I admit that when listening to masculine voices I prefer baritones, but Summerer’s vocal mastery throws my preferences aside and keeps me riveted to the story. In fact, even as I write this review I am listening to this audiobook again and it is going to be difficult to just stop and go back to the one I am listening to in my car (have I mentioned that most of my audiobook listening is in my car? I think so. If I am not driving, I prefer to actually read).

Summerer’s vocal intonations are wonderful and he never resorts to funny voices to differentiate characters and yet there is never a moment in which you cannot figure out who is speaking. He reads every line with appropriate emotion as though he is as interested in the book as any other reader. Perhaps he is? I have noted that some professional readers seem to project an aura of detachment from the story they are reading. They emote when the characters emote, but read the narrative passages without much interest. Summerer puts emotion in his voice regardless of the whether the passage is narration or dialog. It is refreshing and pleasant to listen to.

I really think I could have done without Mike Resnick’s introduction – yes I know I have had trouble listening to books he has introduced before, mostly his own, but I suppose the publishers felt that someone had to come on and remind listeners of just who Clifford Simak was and how influential he was on the SF and Fantasy genres.

Summing it up; Clifford Simak is a master of his art and Way Station is one of his best. Also, Mister Summerer may just be the perfect reader of Simak’s story. I just wish I had more by them both in my collection.

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