REVIEW: Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar

Tachyon Publications, 2016
eBook

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

The latest novel by World Fantasy Award–winning author Lavie Tidhar, Central Station is a chunk of a literary speculative novel set in a future Tel Aviv, in the titanic shadow of the eponymous Central Station, the earth-side terminus of the route to the rest of the solar system.

Switching between multiple perspective characters, it flashes back to the past and returns to the present to tell, in a broad, looping fashion, the story of the people of Central Station and, in particular, the lab-grown children of the city and their unsettling techno-magic. 

Central Station is a liminal place. It’s where earth meets space. Nestled in the massive structure are the immersion pods where people go to enter gameworlds, virtual universes every bit as important as the ‘real’ one. In the shadow of the station, robotniks beg—crude machine-people hybrids, built for war and abandoned to peacetime. And here too, Isobel Chow, a perfectly human girl, meets her robotnik lover.

Central Station is where worlds touch. Like an enormous pin, it tacks together concepts the humans in the novel frequently consider opposite. The terrestrial and the interplanetary, the real and the virtual, the human and the technological. Likewise, it sits in between Israeli Tel Aviv and Arab Jaffa, pinning them together.

Tidhar’s setting is utopian in this respect. In the Middle East of Central Station, war is a thing of the past, almost forgotten. Homophobia, racism and misogyny are nowhere to be seen. The future has overtaken hatred.

Memory is another feature of the novel. One thread follows three members of the large and cursed Chong family—cursed by an ancestor’s wish for his descendants never to forget who they are and where they come from. Another character is infected with a technological curse, compelling her to devour memory, data, like a vampire, as if it were life itself.

Which of course it is. Though memory overwhelms the Chongs, though the hunger for it torments the data vampire Carmel, the only disconnected character in this novel is a sad figure. Un-noded and therefore cut off from the Conversation—the wireless connection in which everyone moves like air—he collects paper books, now rare and curious relics. Surrounded by the fiction of the past, Achimwene is still lonely.

As the story of the Chongs illustrates, memory is belonging. Central Station, the novel, is a loose kind of saga. It’s a story—or many stories—about family. Not only blood, but love: romantic and otherwise. It’s about all the strange kinds of bonds that tie people together, in the present and across the years. It’s a story about muddling along together, all the disparate stories interlinking, all the opposites mingling, making a greater whole. A greater future.

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