I’m an unashamed fan of Lavie Tidhar’s work. So, I was very excited at the opportunity to read his latest novel, Central Station (published by Tachyon Publications, who provided a review copy through NetGalley). And every page was a delight.
Central Station is an amalgam of several previously published pieces of short fiction, woven together with new material into a composite novel. All of the pieces are set in or around Central Station itself, a spaceport built just outside Tel Aviv, in a post-war, post-fossil fuel society.
For all its futuristic setting, Central Station speaks to the world we live in now. This is a novel about borders and connections, emigration and diaspora and the families we are born into or create for ourselves. Where people are blends of human and machine, and religion is a literal drug.
Humanity has colonised the stars, and Central Station itself is the jumping off point to those varied communities in space. The community that has built up around the spaceport is a melting pot of cultures and races, living and working in an informal economy of shebeens, salvage and more and less legal bioengineering. The novel follows several of the residents of that community as their lives cross and interact.
In Tidhar’s novel, the connections between family and community are manifested through The Conversation: an all-encompassing background chatter of intertwined social media, facilitated by devices implanted at birth. For some, that level of connection is not enough, and one family patriarch, Weiwei Zhong, made a deal to ensure that his family and descendants will all share each others’ memories. But the volume of memories are threatening to overwhelm the bootleg technology, leaving his son with the equivalent of dementia as he tries to manage and process the volume of data. Boris Chong returns from the stars to assist his ailing father, but finds himself confronting the family drama he sought to escape by emigrating and reconnecting with a lost love, Miriam Jones.
The world left behind does not stand still for those emigrants and returners. Relativity means those who leave and return have not aged as much as those left behind. As always, the person who leaves expects the place they have left to remain the same, but is the one who often changes least, struggling to cope with a home that has not stood still since their departure.
Around Boris Chong and his family accrete a number of other vignettes of Central Station residents and visitors. Miriam Jones’s brother Achimwene Jones is a collector and seller of antique books. He has no node, making him deaf to The Conversation. But his very isolation and distance from others makes him irresistibly fascinating to Carmel, a strigoi, and Boris’s ex. Infected with a virus, Carmel is a data-vampire, gifted with the ability – and need – to feed on the knowledge and memories of others. She becomes integral to a piece of digital performance art made by a god-artist called Eliezer. In order to help Carmel, Motl, a homeless cyborg former soldier, supplies a drug called Crucifixation, creating tensions in his relationship with the fully-human Isobel Chow. A relationship that in itself is a taboo.
Motl’s story speaks to how we treat and value the military. With the conflict that they were created for long concluded, the former cyborg soldiers are discarded and treated as less than human. Left to beg for scraps, they live on the very margins of society. But these cyborg soldiers are not as disposable as was originally envisaged. Their essential humanity persists. Ostracised for their fusion with the mechanical, they watch from sidelines as, ironically, humanity becomes ever more enmeshed with the digital.
Central Station comes together to become a complex and multi-layered novel that speaks of family and the nature of humanity. It’s a beautiful thing, and it would be a crime if it doesn’t get some award nominations next year.
Goodreads rating: 5*