Central Station | Lavie Tidhar | 2016 (10 May; Pb 26 May) | Tachyon Publications | 290p | Review copy | Buy the book
Something has happened to the world. An exodus is underway that has driven many people to the stars and the gateway to these other worlds can be found in Central Station, which rises high into the sky above Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv itself has become a melting pot of cultures, not all of them entirely human. Many humans have attached to them elements of the Others, alien entities that enable people to function on another level, to join in the Conversation. This is a society that intimately, curiously, feeds on the thoughts, feelings and intentions of others. Some people might have this entity physically attached to them like a parasite, others might be integrated far more intricately. The next generation might be even more integrated as biology and technology take a leap.
Into this complex, busy, noisy world of Tel Aviv, Boris Chong returns from Mars. He greets old friends, old lovers and it is their stories, their reunion, that forms the heart of Lavie Tidhar’s elegant exploration of this new Tel Aviv.
Central Station compiles together a collection of short stories, which move between a number of key characters, with Boris, almost the prodigal son, at their heart. Boris is not the man he was when he left, the pulsating alien entity attached to his neck is proof of that, although the changes go far deeper. The work that he’s been doing on Mars, something to do with engineering babies, remains in the shadows but it intrigues.
Other characters include a data vampire, an extraordinary woman who has somehow been allowed to return to Earth even though she lives to feed off the data of others, sucking them dry, leaving them a memoryless husk. There are strange children who can immediately join the Conversation without any kind of device. There are robots who act like they are human despite their metal skins, becoming priests, falling in love with men and women, being loved in return. And many more.
The fact that the novel combines several stories means that, for this reader at least, there is a degree of disjointedness about the whole. It also means that there isn’t a plot as such, it’s more of a journey through the complex levels of Tel Aviv society. Tel Aviv has become a kind of Babel’s Tower, with lots of chatter going on, lots of noise, and there is much here that feels biblical. It seems appropriate that this last stage of man on Earth should be taking place in such an ancient place.
I love Lavie Tidhar’s writing and, as always, here it is beautiful. I loved the setting and the characters but, for me, it felt a little like setting the scene for a main act that doesn’t arrive. This is entirely my failing. I suspect I’m an impatient reader. But the world building, the sense of significance, the huge ideas, are wonderful and I can see much potential in this setting for future novels. I particularly enjoyed the Church of Robot. Central Station is a place I would love to explore further.
Also reviewed at Blue Book Balloon.