Yep, it was the cover. I took one look at it and was immediately smitten. Did it play me false?
A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper. When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.
Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change. At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive… and even evolve.
If it isn’t already apparent from the blurb, this is one of those books where the central character is the world Tidhar evokes in his detailed, layered descriptions that are the pivot around which the various plotlines circle. And if this were a rom-com or whodunit, it would be an issue for the reader – the pace would suffer and the storyline would be compromised. However, this is the harder end of science fiction, set a long way in the future where technology and an alien entity has significantly altered humanity, so we are now confronted with posthumans. Nothing can be taken for granted, as this is a world very different from ours, so that level of information is necessary.
Having said that, if Tidhar had presented info-dumps in indigestible chunks, I’d have found it a problem. So I’m glad to report that he does no such thing. He also manages to pull off another nifty trick – my other issue with posthuman protagonists is that they are often so very alien I find it difficult to care one way or the other as to what happens to them. My attention was held throughout this many-stranded narrative in multiple pov because Tidhar writes with power and economy.
His characters and their concerns bounce off the page, pulling me in and making me care. There are occasional moments of humour, drama and passion. What there isn’t is a single overarching plot that draws all this together into a tidy whole – but that is sort of the point. Tidhar’s scattergun approach, highlighting a number of individuals while they are grappling with aspects of their lives causing them a problem, gives us a vivid, multi-faceted sense of the whole.
Inevitably I cared more about some characters than others, but that was okay – the only time I felt Tidhar’s writing faltered very slightly, was when depicting the children. While I understood they were definitely different, along with the difference, they somehow lost their childishness, which prevented me from fully bonding with them.
A warning, though. If you have followed Tidhar’s short fiction and are poised to dive into Central Station all set to be whisked away into a completely different adventure, then you may be disappointed. As far as I can make out from the notes at the back of the edition, Tidhar has woven together a number of his short stories to create the novel, Central Station. However, if you pick up this book at random, lured by the beauty and alien feel of the cover and hoping for a sense of that other-world atmosphere permeating the pages, you’re in for a treat.