The reviews for Lavie Tidhar’s clever CENTRAL STATION keep rolling in.
Carolyn Juris selected the novel as a PUBLISHERS WEEKLY staff pick.
Tidhar introduces the science fictional elements of his world deftly, with just enough information to keep the reader eager to learn more. There are robots and cyborgs, tentacle junkies and a data vampire, and the Others, evolved from digital intelligence. The so-called children of the station were, as an in-the-know doctor puts it, “labbed, right here, hacked together out of public property genomes and bits of black market nodes,” and they exist simultaneously in the real and virtual worlds.
At the mall-like Central Station’s faith bazaar, one may visit a Catholic church, a mosque—or the Elronite Centre for the Advancement of Humankind. The book is rife with such real-world winks, as well as nods to a library’s worth of science fiction greats. Recognizing the book’s literary references is half the fun; as a dabbler in rather than a devoted reader of SF, I have a new reading list and a lot of catching up to do.
But more important than the in-jokes and flights of imagination that make the novel a wild, heady ride, Central Station is populated by characters, not all of them entirely human, that feel recognizable and real. The non-Western setting and cast—descendents of immigrants to Tel Aviv from China, Nigeria, the Philippines, and elsewhere—is notable and refreshing, and completely uncontrived.
This slender book, less than 300 pages, spans generations without compromising character development. Estranged lovers reunite; elders contemplate, even long for, mortality; and adoptive parents care for their weird, weird lab-grown children. I don’t know whether Tidhar has more stories about Central Station planned, but I’d love to find out what happens to those children when they grow up.
Photo: Kevin Nixon. © Future Publishing 2013
On her BOOKS BONES & BUFFY, Tammy Sparks lauds the title.
The nitty-gritty: Intricate and otherworldly, emotional and thought provoking, Tidhar’s vision of the future is both familiar and alien at the same time.
I went into CENTRAL STATION completely blind, which is sometimes the best way to experience a book. So after a few chapters of seemingly unrelated characters and events, I finally caught on that this novel is a series of interconnected stories whose characters circle around each other, now and then crossing paths, each one unexpectedly connected to the next. As the story unfolds, the reader is introduced to the people who live in Central Station, a buzzing, hub-like city that reaches high into the clouds, a place of arrivals and departures, as people leave from the spaceports to Mars or Titan. My initial puzzlement in the beginning soon turned into delighted amazement as Tidhar’s unusual world began to unfold. If you’re looking for an action-packed adventure, heavy on plot, then CENTRAL STATION will disappoint you. There is very little plot to be found here, although there is a central mystery that threads its way through the chapters. What you will get, though, is just as good: incredible world-building, beautiful writing, and emotional moments between characters that celebrate what it means to be human.
Surrounding the characters is Tidhar’s wonderfully unique vision of the future (or perhaps a warning of where we may be headed!). Humans grow up “noded,” with a sort of built in access to the Conversation, an internet-like construct that allows constant access to all information, like plugging our minds directly into the internet and never being able to escape the constant rush of information. People smoke ubiq cigarettes that have high density data encoded into the smoke, which delivers instant knowledge to the smoker. Those searching for religion can take a drug called Crucifixation, a pill that makes you see God. (Best name for a futuristic drug ever!) Gamers can strap themselves into pods and spend hours immersed in fantastical worlds (OK, maybe that idea’s been done before, but still. Cool!)
And describing all of this is Lavie Tidhar’s poetic and flowing prose, something that I don’t see enough of in speculative fiction. He revels in the senses, evoking smells and tastes so vivid that I knew exactly what he was talking about.
In fact, each chapter in CENTRAL STATION was first published as a short story, and Tidhar has gone back and reworked them into a collection that paints an intriguing picture of a group of diverse people who are simply trying to survive. In other words, it’s sort of like real life, but with robotniks and tentacle junkies and Martian parasites. Tidhar shows us through his characters how important—and inescapable—history can be. I hope he writes more stories set in Central Station, because there is so much more I want to know.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Daniel Carpenter at BOOKMUNCH praises CENTRAL STATION.
One of the hardest jobs a genre writer, or really any writer for that matter has, is creating a believable world. It’s especially tough in science fiction, where your imagination can run wild, but the limits of what’s required for the story have to keep you grounded. I can only really think of a handful of times where a world feels real, breathable, and explorable. Mieville does it with aplomb in Perdido Street Station, Aliya Whiteley nailed it in The Beauty, and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast is stunningly realised. These places stick in our minds because of the sense of place they establish. The worlds the writers play with are worlds that you can map out, walk the streets of and understand the geography. And now? Now you can add Lavie Tidhar’s Central STATION to the list.
Tidhar has always been the kind of writer who succeeded in playing with established tropes – such as The Man in the High Castle influenced Osama, and here is no different. Again, we’re firmly in Dick territory, with stories rooted in concepts from authors like Asimov or Bradbury. It’s in taking these classic (and often rote) tropes from the annals of genre fiction, and using them to tell a much more modern story, that Tidhar succeeds so admirably. So whilst Central Station wears its influences on its sleeve, it never feels worn or tired.
Any Cop?: This is a deeply personal novel and yet it manages to have a huge scope. It’s a really great piece of fiction, and one of the most interesting science-fiction novels of recent years.
For more info about CENTRAL STATION, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Sarah Anne Langton