Central Station

By Lavie Tidhar

Rating: 5 stars

For me, books often fit into two moulds – either heavy plot driven where I skim the actual words in my excitement to find out what happens next, or slow and lyrical, where the plot is almost secondary to the language, which has to read slowly and savoured. For me, Ray Bradbury was a master of the latter form and whenever I find books of that type, it’s always to Bradbury that I compare them. And Central Station passes that test with aplomb. I was hooked within the first few pages and despite there not being much of a plot, that feeling stayed with me throughout.

In some ways, the book is a love letter to the great science fiction and writers of the 20th century. There’s references to CL Moore’s Shambleau; Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind; Larry Niven’s Louis Wu and several others (and how many did I miss through not recognising the reference?). But the book is more than just nods to great writers of the past, it takes all those threads and weaves something beautiful from them. Central Station itself – a giant spaceport built between the cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa – is a wonderful creation that will stick in the memory long after you put the book down.

The world-building is deft, slotted in between the glorious language as we explore the Station, the city and the characters who inhabit it. There’s Boris Chong, who’s returned from the Up and Out (itself such a Cordwainer Smith phrase) as his father is ill, with a sort of memory cancer; there’s Kranki, a lab-grown boy who’s more than the sum of his parts; and Carmel, a data vampire, drawn to Central Station by something she doesn’t understand. And that’s only a handful of the many characters that Tidhar makes us care about, in a fairly short book.

We see into their lives and how they cross and intersect both in the physical and the digital realms, through the ubiquitous network known simply as The Conversation. Everyone gets a node implanted at birth and it’s part of them as they grow. Those who don’t have one (like Miriam’s brother) are considered disabled, and lesser. Many things have changed in the future, but fear and distaste of those different to ourselves is still very much part of humanity and its digital descendants.

It’s not an entirely perfect book, I would have liked a stronger plot to weave these characters together, but I enjoyed my time spent with them all and would definitely add Central Station to my list of fictional megastructures to visit, given the opportunity.

Book details

ISBN: 9781616962142

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