Central Station is city at the base of a space station filled with all kinds of cultures, and still growing apace. When Boris Chong returns home from Mars to see his desperately ill father he emerges into a city that has changed.
The readers’ entry into the world of Central Station begins as a ‘I am a camera’ type of tour, highlighting both the exotic and grimy mundane of the many inhabitants populating this dense gathering of people, until there is a smooth and seamless zoom in to Mama Jones and her otherworldly adopted son Kranki and the conversation they are having. This constant shift of focus back and forth between the surroundings and the different characters demonstrates Lavie Tidhar’s skill at world building and making you feel you should have a vested interest in the outcome of the people within in it.
Central Station is typical of the strange worlds that emerge from the author’s imagination. There are genetically engineered children, a human with a Martian symbiont, a woman who is a data vampire, and a half human/half robot soldier (in the ‘I have seen things’ tradition) who has been left to fend for himself and is living hand to mouth along with some of his abandoned comrades.
So strange and yet so much of this story could be dropped into our world because this is about relationships and connectedness; about different people with different beliefs living side by side as in a community, albeit uncomfortably at times. This is science fiction told on an intimate scale. Because of this, the strangeness disappears into the background, although its presence is responsible for the way Tidhar is able to make the reader really think about the everyday issues we might encounter and are effectively being discussed by the story.
That Central Station was developed from short stories is an interesting proposition for any writers reading this novel, because it demonstrates that it is possible to play with ideas, put them out there and continue to develop them into something that has coherence. Certainly there is a sense of episodes as the narrative is explored through different viewpoints, but this provides helpful bookmarks, because at less than 300 pages this is a novel dense with concepts and characterisations.
This is the type of story that has a unique footprint and because of that will need an audience tuned to Tidhar’s excursions into his more unusual styles of writing. But it is worth an outing for those not familiar with him and anyone wanting to understand how to write the type of science fiction that really has something to say without making an extravagant opera out of it. For those who do enjoy Tidhar’s work this is definitely a novel that will stand more than one reading because of the richness of the narrative and the ideas that are developed within it.
Central Station was courtesy of Tachyon Publications via NetGalley