CENTRAL STATION distills all of science fiction into a single book
A quartet of reviews of Lavie Tidhar’s thoughtful and poignant CENTRAL STATION.
In his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter, Warren Ellis offers his take.
CENTRAL STATION. Lavie Tidhar. Now this is a thing. This is a science fiction novel written in an episodic style, where, in fact, it seems to me, each episode is also a little study of science fiction. Old science fiction. It’s like Tidhar is enacting a cold restart of the genre in the Middle East. References to old science fiction abounds – I came across the Louis Wu reference and was suddenly wait, what? And then Shambleau, and a chapter that was in large part a set-up for a bit about sandworms, and damn. A spaceport that’s Jewish on one side and Arab on the other and the seat of the project of science fiction.
“Our maker who art in the zero point field, hallowed be thy nine billion names …”
The Nine Billion Names Of God. Short story by Arthur C Clarke. Tidhar does this all the way through the book. Central Station is the locus of science fiction. Defining it as the source of global stories. There is one single American in the book that I noticed, and even he is noted as having lost his accent.
And, yes, it does tell its own story, one that is as much myth and legend as sf. Interrupted love, the culture of abandoned robots, designer babies with imaginary friends and released AI as wild djinni. The book is bigger than it seems, and I’m still thinking about it, unpacking the layers of it. I recommend it highly. It’ll stay with you for days, because every idea in it has more ideas under it. It’s all of science fiction distilled into a single book.
Skye Walker of FANTASY LITERATURE reviews the book.
CENTRAL STATION is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part CENTRAL STATION occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. CENTRAL STATION the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.
CENTRAL STATION is about humanity in every form it may take. It’s about yearning and hopes and frustrations. Its intricate design of life, love, and happenstance in a distant future isn’t so much grounded in a forced humanity as revelling in it. It’s also about mysteries never to be solved. There are a fair few things in CENTRAL STATION that I continue to wonder about. In most stories without a foreseeable continuation these kinds of loose ends would bother me. In the case of CENTRAL STATION they lend to the idea that what I read was just a moment. There was time in the lives of the characters before the story began, and there is life after. CENTRAL STATION is written like a segment of history, except that it’s set in the future.
If you’re looking for a plot-heavy sci-fi narrative you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a deeply complex comment on humanity in a future where many lines are blurred, this is the right pick for you.
On the B&N SCI-FI & FANTASY BLOG, Ceridwen Christensen writes about the vibrant novel.
This is the second of Tidhar’s novels I’ve read in as many months, and I have to say, I’m incredibly impressed with his range of style and voice. A MAN LIES DREAMING was pulp snarl, a book both thoughtful and lewd, nasty and pointed. But CENTRAL STATION, now this is something different: amiable, shifting, slow, and stealthy. There’s nothing particularly urgent about it, no main arc that drives you from here to there. This is not to say there aren’t stakes for the people who live in the shadow of the station. This Tel Aviv is a vibrant, textured place. Tidhar has the knack of detailing his beautiful, worn city with the specificity of pop songs and cultural detritus only known to its people, the kind of tossed off knowledge that cements a people to a place, and is ultimately unknowable to outsiders.
He had me leaning in, listening, to this conversation. You should take a listen too, on your way from here to there.
Elan Samuel on THE WARBLER praises CENTRAL STATION.
I thought it would be difficult to find a book at good as Hannu Rajaniemi’s COLLECTED FICTION this year, but Lavie Tidhar’s CENTRAL STATION, also published by Tachyon, has overtaken it for the top spot in my list this year. By a tiny margin.
For me, CENTRAL STATION was more than a good—or even great—book. It was an important book, for several reasons. The first is that it is some advanced science fiction that breaks through a number of barriers in the genre, which I’ll dig into below. The second is that it was written by an Israeli author and takes place in Tel Aviv.
Beyond its significance to me for personal reasons, CENTRAL STATION is an excellent book that pushes at the boundaries of science fiction, while maintaining a deliberately sci-fi core. It was not a story of adventure, or of love, or of horror, though at points it had elements of of all of these. It is a human story. It offers glimpses into the lives of people living their lives, and shows us that no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes or how the world may change, to be human is to struggle, to connect, to love, to fear, to believe and disbelieve. It is absolutely science fiction, and it is also a literary exploration of the human condition through the lenses of family, death, evolution, technology, and religion.
CENTRAL STATION is told almost in vignettes, which makes sense given that Tidhar wrote and published each chapter separately over the course of several years before compiling them into a book with Tachyon. The cast sometimes feel disconnected from each other, but then you realize their connection is their home. Tel Aviv. Central Station. The writing is superb, sometimes eschewing superficial imagery for abstraction, but always returns to a place of clarity. It flows beautifully throughout the read, and though it is short, it is full.
CENTRAL STATION blew me away. I hope it will do the same for you.
For more info about CENTRAL STATION, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover and poster by Sarah Anne Langton