Review: Central Station

Posted: May 10, 2016 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Lavie Tidhar, Science Fiction

Tel Aviv, Israel, is the hub for the space elevator called Central Station. It’s an unusual place, a conglomeration of travelers, refugees, discarded robots, and modified humans. Miriam runs a small shebeen near the space port with the boy Kranki, whom she took custody of when his mother died of a drug overdose. She has no idea where his father is. Kranki is an unusual boy, capable of manipulating the world around him and listening in on the Conversation, the stream of data all around them, between people, between machines/robots, and the artificial intelligences that exist in the data stream. He’s always been a little odd.

Miriam’s is only one such story in the strangely compelling CENTRAL STATION by Lavie Tidhar. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I learned that parts of the book were previously published as short stories, some of which were changed to better fit a novel’s narrative. It’s true that the book does feel disjointed as a result, but it does have its common thread: Central Station itself.

This is a novel about a place. Certainly there are characters like Miriam and Kranki, but there’s also Boris who’s returned from Mars upon learning of his father’s impending death. There’s Boris’s father Vlad Chong, whose father connected his descendants by implanting in himself an inheritable data node that would give his descendants memories of their blood relatives. There’s Ibrahim the junk trader who found a baby among discarded things and took him as his own son; but the boy Ismail seems to be the next Messiah. There’s Carmel, a shambleu, which is a data vampire–she feeds on the memories and data of others.

There are these characters and more, but there really isn’t an overarching plot. I prefer books with strong storylines, it’s the stories that speak to me, which may be why it took so long for me to read this book. Another reason why I took my time with his book is because it’s packed full of the strange and unexpected. A data vampire? Babies born from vats whose DNA was purposely encoded to become a Messiah? Vlad is so full of his family’s memories that as he ages it becomes harder for him to be aware of the present? Or the cyborg robotnick Motl who is in love with a human woman, and remembers the battles he fought in, but only has glimpses of the pre-robot life his human brain lived? If it hadn’t been for the weird, unusual, and bizarre future landscape drawn by Tidhar I probably would have put this book down because it didn’t really go anywhere. CENTRAL STATION is more a snapshot of what could earth be like in the future once we’ve conquered space travel. And it’s utterly fascinating.

Will we discard robots as they become obsolete, to leave them in endless poverty, begging for parts? By the end, it left me wondering--but in a good way.

The other reason why this book kept me reading despite its lack of storyline was its beautiful prose. It’s unlike any Science Fiction I’ve ever read, equally parts poetic, abstract, and authentic in its ability to show us a strange future we can believe that, yes, is certainly possible. What will life be like for us in 50 years? In 100? Is this the trajectory we’re headed toward with our dependence on data and manipulating our bodies? Will we discard robots as they become obsolete, to leave them in endless poverty, begging for parts? It is these questions and more that CENTRAL STATION attempts to answer, and by the end it left me wondering–but in a good way.

  • Recommended Age: 16+ more for comprehension than content
  • Language: Less than a handful of instances
  • Violence: Referenced but not much on screen
  • Sex: Referenced

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