Clifford Simak was raised in Wisconsin, and his science fiction combines galactic scope with nostalgia for the old American Midwest. Way Station (1963) is a fine example of this unlikely mix, and probably his best novel--it won him a Hugo award.
Its hero Enoch Wallace first appears as a mystery man: an impossibly young-looking Civil War veteran, 124 years old and still living in his parents' remote Winconsin farmhouse. Nowadays this building has a glittering, Tardis-like interior, ever since Wallace was recruited by aliens as stationmaster on a minor branch line--not a railway, but Galactic Central's network of matter transmitters carrying passengers between the stars. Earth isn't ready for this secret, and countryman Wallace's best friends are extraterrestrials and ghostly simulations.
When the CIA investigates his reclusive lifestyle, it accidentally stirs up an interstellar diplomatic crisis. Wallace's job, and his place in the countryside he loves, are suddenly threatened. So are his hopes for persuading Galactic Central to step in and halt our accelerating slide towards nuclear war. (The Cuban missile crisis was then recent history.)
All the story threads converge neatly: the rustic lynch mob, the galactics, the CIA, the unhappy ghosts, the local deaf-and-dumb girl who can charm warts and heal butterflies, and the bizarre virtual-reality rifle range built for Wallace by an alien construction team. There are painful losses, victories, and a final note of lonely hope. It's a book of great charm--old-fashioned SF, but timeless rather than dated. --David Langford [via]