Central Station, de Lavie Tidhar, is one of the most awaited science fiction books of the year. Antonio Díaz, always ready to answer the call of duty, brings us his analysis of the novel. Hope you enjoy it!
Review Soundtrack: Antonio suggests reading this review while listening to Mix Tel Aviv, by Kutiman (YouTube).
Lavie Tidhar, Israel-born author and United Kingdom resident, drew my attention with its first Spanish-translated novel: Osama. In that book, the main character, a detective, is hired to find the very same Osama Bin Laden, who in this parallel world is a hard-to-find pulp novelist instead of a terrorist. A very controversial premise that garnered nominations for the John W. Campbell and BSFA and won the World Fantasy Award.
In Osama, Tidhar imagines a rich and alternative world, an Earth-that-never-was (but that could have been). And he again employs that skill with Central Station, a fix-up of short stories, some of them previously published, and that he adapted for this novel.
In Central Station there are many characters: a doctor who specialises in prenatal genetics and who comes back home after many years abroad; a robotnik, survivor of wars that nobody remembers; a cheap fiction collector in a world where everybody is permanently connected to the Internet; a man that cannot escape from a memory well full of the lives of others; a mind vampire and many, many more. These characters, that I guess are the core of the original stories, are intertwined seamlessly. They are connected by a thread of relationships and Tidhar jumps from one to another with ease and efficiency, never confusing the reader. Most of them are perfectly depicted in a couple of pages and the author makes you relate to them.
However, and despite the multiple POVs, there is only one protagonist: Central Station itself. Tidhar paints a precise and evocative picture. Central Station is the communication node between Earth and the Solar System. It raises above the city of Tel Aviv, it extends creating its own community and sinks its roots well below the city. The author tell us not only about the characters, but also about the city's historical framework in a very approachable way. After reading the book, that barely breaks the 200-page mark, I have the impression of knowing a lot about the station's history without suffering tedious infodumps.
Tidhar's writing is one of the novel's strong suits. It is elaborate but not convoluted and poetic but not tiresome. He coins words like Schrödingering, robotnik, shebeen, kathoey… but that doesn't hinder reading at all, on the contrary, provides richness. The author also develops a couple of invented languages like Battle Yiddish (a mix of German with which I guess is Hebrew) or Asteroid Pidgin (an English corruption that makes it more phonetic). All this work, together with the effort made to depict the characters's daily life, adds tiles to the novel's mosaic.
Tidhar's imagination is not only seen in the newly-minted terms or the quirky languages the novel has, but in the ideas it contains. Central Station is full of fresh and well-thought concepts. However, the principal key to the plot's evolution, related to the artificial intelligences called 'The Others' is somewhat unfinished and unsatisfying. I understand that this, like the absence of the a plot main beam, is an effect of its fix-up nature.
Definitively, this is a novel that can be enjoyed more as a trip around Central Station and that can be savoured in small sips. Nevertheless, it can cloy a bit if ingested with haste. Its short length plays clearly as a strength in this case, as Central Station is never dull and never boring.