Thursday, June 16, 2016

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

“But he knew too, that there is more than one story in the world at a time; and that her story was not his. Their stories had entwined, but they had different trajectories, different conclusions” (234).  

This line about stories captures the experience of reading Central Station.  It is a collection of short stories set in a futuristic version of Tel Aviv featuring different characters who interact with each other and are sometimes supporting characters in one story and main characters in another, but all connect together by their interactions and shared existence. Its diverse cast features robots, cyborg soldiers, aliens, AIs, Others, data vampires, strange test tube babies, alte zachen men (junk gypsies), a god artist, a bookseller, and a scientist from a family with a strange memory curse.  

Being connected short stories, the reading is fragmented, and Tidhar immerses readers into this world without info dumps.  With each story read, it is like fitting together puzzle pieces to build a bigger picture of a futuristic world that has evolved so differently with advanced sciences and virtual existence, all told by individual characters' stories that also are more than just personal events, telling the story of how Central Station and this different future came to be. 

This world has made advances with cyber tech, AI, and genetic engineering, humanity has spread far into space, and the definitions of human and living have become more fluid.  It is a future where everything is online, and everyone is connected to the data stream (the Conversation) with their virtual lives taking on their own existence.  Tidhar is not afraid to think outside of the box for this imaginary future and explore interesting ideas.  The definition of humans have stretched with cyborgs, modified humans, robots, AIs, and alien presence.  Same with the definition of living, there are virtual-only existences and some hybrid of virtual and physical.  Just the way they think of themselves and what they worry about is so different and intriguing and, at the heart of it, still something human that readers can relate to. 

Tidhar’s writing establishes a strong sense of place with Central Station.  He draws strongly on Tel Aviv's present-day heritage and culture and its mingling of other peoples to build this imaginative version.  There is a strong international flavor, with cultural foods, sights, language, and even religion.  The writing is literary and poetic.  His prose grounds the story and ties all these elements together into one convincing and believable package.  His writing establishes the feel of this world better than any technical details.  He writes with conviction and captures the way the different characters experience their world, their interactions, and their dialogue--all as insiders rather than an outsider looking in--adding to that immersive experience. 

Look for Central Station in the VBPL Catalog.  Try some of Tidhar’s other works.  For more literary speculative fiction, read Chaz Brenchley’s Rotten Row and Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, and, for that plus multiple, interconnected stories, try Brasyl and River of Gods by Ian McDonald.

Review by Tracy V.

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