I read several of Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Central Station’ stories when they appeared in ‘Interzone’ magazine in recent years. They were all interlinked, both by the location and by some of the characters, but chiefly by the richly imagined world that revolves around the edifice of Central Station. In this volume, Lavie Tidhar has collected and revised all of his ‘Central Station’ stories and added extra material to weave them into a marvellous, multi-faceted story that flows gently from one character to another like an intimate private tour of Tel Aviv and the spaceport at its centre.
Like Lavie Tidhar’s anarchic novel, ‘The Tel Aviv Dossier’, co-written with Nir Yaniv, there are lots of cultural and historical references and a lot going on. Unlike that fabulously psychedelic book, ‘Central Station’ is much more sedate in its pacing, with time for philosophy, poetry, memories and regrets for the ensemble cast. The tale is addictive though and, despite its seemingly meandering plot, I was constantly drawn into the next episode to see how this gorgeously rendered polyptych would develop.
The characters include Mama Jones (no relation to me) who runs a teashop and her adopted son, Kranki, who possesses some unexplained abilities; bookseller Achimwene; robot priest R. Patchitt; robotnik Motl and strigoi Carmel. Along with several other characters, they all appear in various chapters where their relationships gradually become clear and their lives are shown to intertwine both present and through their shared histories.
Central Station is a place with a lot of history, where families have lived for generations and everyone seems to know or be related to everyone else. The majority of them are also linked by The Conversation, the virtual world that everyone can access via implanted nodes which lets them experience a second layer of data and information overlaid on the physical world. It’s the individual characters’ relationship to The Conversation that shapes much of the way they live. Physician Vincent Chong, newly returned from several years in space, and his family share all of their family’s memories via their nodal implants. Kranki is somehow able to influence The Conversation. Achimwene has no implants and is viewed as a cripple. Carmel is a data vampire who feeds on others’ stored memories and data in their nodes.
This is what makes this book so intriguing: there is not just one ramification from the central technology of this society. Lavie Tidhar has given much thought to what could happen and draws out the numerous developments that are possible. Each of these leads on to various types of people and how they live their lives.
Apart from their varied technological situations and vocations, there is also a wonderful variety of language and ethnicity. Tel Aviv is home to Jews that include immigrants from China and Malawi; robotniks from numerous unnamed wars, resurrected and cyborgised from fallen soldiers; labourers who worked on the construction of central station and speak the same pidgin as the asteroid miners, based I think on Solomon Island Pidgin, which is used in several poems and snippets of conversation. It’s an interesting language in that you can almost follow it if you could get the pronunciation right. There are shrines and churches for a variety of faiths, including the Church of Robot, and all of these ingredients serve to add an air of authenticity to this society.
The story moves from one character to the next as we delve into the mystery of Kranki’s abilities, the tragedy of Carmel’s affliction and whether she can control it, the curse of the Chong’s shared memories and the other strange and wonderful things that affect all of them to one degree or another. At the end of the book, I was left with a mellow feeling of contentment and the impression that I’d enjoyed a relaxing holiday in the company of some intriguing characters.
Gareth D. Jones
(pub: Tachyon Publications. 288 page paperback. Price: $15.95 (US), £12.31 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61696-214-2)
check out website: www.tachyonpublications.com