A quartet of posts about Lavie Tidhar’s beautiful CENTRAL STATION.
At STARBURST, Alister Davison praises CENTRAL STATION.
Tidhar’s prose draws the reader in, bringing this world to life with ease. There are many concepts on offer – ranging from genetic modification to artificial intelligence – yet the characters are never sacrificed in favour of the technology; in fact, the two of them combine seamlessly to create a unique vision, one that will leave the reader thinking long after the final page. Not only intelligent, it’s emotional too, telling of loves lost and those only just begun, of those wishing to escape their past and those hoping to bring it back.
Tidhar’s last two
books, THE VIOLENT CENTURY and A MAN LIES DREAMING, were rightly
given great acclaim, so were always going to be tough acts to follow.
CENTRAL STATION maintains that standard, cementing Lavie Tidhar as
one of science fiction’s great voices, an author who creates
scenarios and characters that feel destined to become classics, ones
that readers will be happy to revisit time and time again. It’s a
compelling collection that mixes the epic and the intimate, one that
succeeds at being profound, incredibly moving and, quite simply,
Jenny Colvin at the READING ENVY podcast reads an excerpt (beginning at 37:25).
This is a novel about a place. Certainly there are characters like Miriam and Kranki, but there’s also Boris who’s returned from Mars upon learning of his father’s impending death. There’s Boris’s father Vlad Chong, whose father connected his descendants by implanting in himself an inheritable data node that would give his descendants memories of their blood relatives. There’s Ibrahim the junk trader who found a baby among discarded things and took him as his own son; but the boy Ismail seems to be the next Messiah. There’s Carmel, a shambleu, which is a data vampire–she feeds on the memories and data of others.
There are these characters and more, but there really isn’t an overarching plot. I prefer books with strong storylines, it’s the stories that speak to me, which may be why it took so long for me to read this book. Another reason why I took my time with his book is because it’s packed full of the strange and unexpected. A data vampire? Babies born from vats whose DNA was purposely encoded to become a Messiah? Vlad is so full of his family’s memories that as he ages it becomes harder for him to be aware of the present? Or the cyborg robotnick Motl who is in love with a human woman, and remembers the battles he fought in, but only has glimpses of the pre-robot life his human brain lived? If it hadn’t been for the weird, unusual, and bizarre future landscape drawn by Tidhar I probably would have put this book down because it didn’t really go anywhere. CENTRAL STATION is more a snapshot of what could earth be like in the future once we’ve conquered space travel. And it’s utterly fascinating.
The other reason why this book kept me reading despite its lack of storyline was its beautiful prose. It’s unlike any Science Fiction I’ve ever read, equally parts poetic, abstract, and authentic in its ability to show us a strange future we can believe that, yes, is certainly possible. What will life be like for us in 50 years? In 100? Is this the trajectory we’re headed toward with our dependence on data and manipulating our bodies? Will we discard robots as they become obsolete, to leave them in endless poverty, begging for parts? It is these questions and more that CENTRAL STATION attempts to answer, and by the end it left me wondering–but in a good way.
If you start CENTRAL STATION expecting a plot-led tale similar to Tidhar’s most recent published works, you may be in for a surprise. Central Station started life as a series of short stories, and they have been brought together, revised, added to and generally embellished (in the best possible way) for this new “novel”. However, if you start Central Station expecting stories that will appeal to all your senses, with characters who are true to themselves and life itself – and therefore don’t act in a way that fits with a traditional “structure” – set in a place that will feel so real to you by the end that you will swear you can taste and hear it, then you won’t be disappointed in the slightest.
Both A MAN LIES
DREAMING and THE VIOLENT CENTURY (and to an extent OSAMA) have felt
driven by a passion, and anger at humanity’s foibles. Central
Station is something of an antithesis to this, observational rather
than judgmental – and it has some of Tidhar’s finest writing.
For more info about CENTRAL STATION, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and poster by Sarah Anne Langton