Cover Image: Central Station

Central Station

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There was much to enjoy here, but I found I couldn't connect with it. I'd read more from this author in the future though.

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Loved the detailed world-building of this dreaming SF novel, and loved that it wasn't the usual western version of things. The smells and tastes of Central Station, and the quiet shade of the shops and streets, stayed with me long after I finished it.

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4.5 stars. Central Station is a brilliantly imagined, vividly detailed world, where Lavie Tidhar stitches together concepts about scientific developments, the future of humanity, community and family, love, religion and individual choice, all at the same time. It’s an impressive and beautiful patchwork quilt; it’s just that there isn’t a whole lot of plot to it. Central Station is more focused on the ideas and the characters. But what scintillating ideas, and what fascinating characters!

The novel is set in and around Central Station, an immense space port located in Tel Aviv, where a quarter million refugees and migrants live in clustered around the base of the space station. Most people have a genetically built-in data node that connects them virtually to the world around them, making them permanently part of the “Conversation,” the online communication. It’s all internet, all the time. Some people are genetically engineered in labs that can remove genetic diseases along with giving you patented and trademarked features like “green Bose” or “Armani blue” eyes. Between the Others ― purely digital entities and personalities ― exist all types of mixes: cyborg-like robotniks, vampirish Strigoi who hunger for data and memories from their victims, and more. Those who are human are a mix of cultures and nationalities: Jewish, Chinese, Russian and many more. It’s a true melting pot.

Like a futuristic Cannery Row, Central Station follows episodes in the lives of various characters who live around Central Station space port, touching and changing each other’s lives. We begin with Boris Chong, who returns to Earth after many years working in space. His version of the built-in data node is a biological networking augmentation, a pulsating biomass permanently attached behind his ear. He runs into his former lover Miriam, who is raising Kranki, a boy even more connected to the Conversation than most, who even has a virtual friend. These characters connect in turn to others, all different types of humans, part-humans and Others, but all, at heart, worthy of sympathy and consideration as people.

A nice touch of humor is added by a chatty elevator and other smart appliances with artificial intelligence:

"A group of disgruntled house appliances watched the sermon in the virtuality — coffee makers, cooling units, a couple of toilets — appliances, more than anyone else, needed the robots’ guidance, yet they were often willful, bitter, prone to petty arguments, both with their owners and with themselves."

I think my favorite creation was Carmel, the data vampire, inflicted with the Nosferatu Virus, driven to suck data from the necks of humans who have the ubiquitous data node. Like the Shambleau of old, she is feared and hunted down by humans, but the digital Others have a particular role in mind for her.

Tidhar’s rich, allusive writing contains a wealth of ideas and a breathtaking vision for what humanity may become. In the vast differences between the various types of characters, it becomes clear that it’s the similarities that are most important, connecting people in all our diversity. While I would have like a more fully developed plot, in the end I felt like I had gained in insight and compassion by being immersed in the day-to-day world of the people of Central Station.

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This book is a collection of previously written stories, all set within a future time period in which humans have begun a diaspora off the earth, with those who can't afford to go or who aren't allowed to go remaining behind. It's a bit like the concept behind Blade Runner, but set in a desert instead of rainy LA.

There are some through lines with characters, but it's more about the concepts and atmosphere than the overarching plot. And this author is dense and takes concentration. Just not what I was in the mood for, although the book is undoubtedly written well.

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Central Station follows Boris as he returns to Tel Aviv from Mars. His father is terminally ill, his cousin is infatuated with a robotnik and his ex lover is taking care of an orphan who can read his data stream. Everything seems be growing and evolving in the futuristic area at the base of a space station.

Central Station was a promising read but it sorely disappointed me. Immediately, I disliked the writing style. There were too many overly long sentences and Tidhar overuses commas. It also suffered from too much repetition. As I realised this within a couple of pages, it wasn't the best start to a book. But I gave it a chance as it is 'award winning'.

I shouldn't have even given it a chance. I also struggled to like the characters. There isn't one main character as we follow different people around, but all of them seem distant and unrelatable. The world building was strong, but at the same time I wasn't feeling that I could 'step into' this world. The fact that this was previously different short stories shows, as it felt very disjointed and thrown together.

I DNF'd this book about 20% in. I don't think I even got to the actual story as Tidhar had spent most of the time describing the world, the characters, the new technology etc. It just felt like a very longwinded book for a very short sci-fi genre book. I received Central Station* by Lavie Tidhar from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an unbiased and honest review.

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4.5 stars

Central Station weaves together the stories of a diverse cast of characters. It tells the story of a data vampire, an oracle fused into a conch shell, an ex-Earthling with a Martian-controlled aug, a robot, a god maker, a vat-created, half-human, half A.I. and several other intriguing characters. They live in or around Central Station, a station set in Earth in Tel Aviv, with a roof too hight to see, servicing stratospheric vehicles that land from or take off to destinations in space.

The world building in this book is complex and unique. I've started to read a lot more science fiction in the past three years, so I'm not extremely well reading that genre, even still there were setting and ideas explored in this book that I haven't seen done elsewhere.

I was pulled into this story from page one. Tidar creates an atmosphere drenched with the sights and sounds of the station. I could actually feel myself walking the streets surrounding the station. To say the story was well written would be an understatement. This is definitely a literary work of science fiction.

The characters were interesting as well, although they weren't my favorite thing about this book. The diversity in the cast of characters was refreshing to read, even though it was hard to fully engage with all of them. With a 267 page book and a fair amount of characters, it's going to be hard to connect with any one of them, but I thought Tidhar did a good job of fleshing them out enough to be interesting.

I've heard criticism of this book that the book reads more like a collection of short stories rather than a novel with a connecting plot. I didn't find that to be the case at all. All the characters interact with either one or more of the other characters, and there are clear themes and ideas that link all the character's storylines. It's a novel that is rich with ideas and often made me put down the book for awhile to soak it all in.

I'd highly recommend reading Central Station if you like reading thought provoking science fiction, reading stories with interlocking stories and atmospheric novels.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Tachyon Press for a copy of this book.

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Central Station imagines a world where divisions have blurred between man-created and biological entities and corporate and personal memory. Conversation has shifted from personal one-on-one dialogue to universal eavesdropping and vicarious experience available through an implanted node.

Central Station is the interstellar port that rises above Jewish Tel Aviv and Arab Jaffa where people "still lived as they had always lived." We will recognize aspects of their lives, the human need for love, the seeking of answers through faith and escape through drugs, the vilification of those who are different. And yet this world, this society, is totally a new imagining.

Originally a series of short stories about individuals whose ancestors came to build the station or fight in the old wars, this is not a plot-driven book but is still compulsive. Long explanations do not burden the tale; you take the strange and new by faith and context, growing into understanding.

Some of the characters and their stories include:

Boris Chong and Miriam Jones had once been young and in love. Boris worked in the labs that created human life but left to work on Mars. He has returned to Central Station with a Martian aug, a parasite, having learned his father's memory was failing. Miriam has adopted a strange child born in Boris's lab.

Boris is followed by an ex-lover named Carmel, a data vampire who is shunned and dangerous. Carmel becomes lovers with one of the few humans without a node, Achimwene, a man she cannot feed on and who cannot become addicted to the dopamine high stimulated by her theft of their memory data. Sometimes he wonders what it was like to be "whole," growing up part of the Conversation, for a human without a node was a 'cripple'. His passion is for mid-twentieth century pulp fiction books, the cheap paperbacks crumbling and yellowed. Their story and search for answers was one of my favorite sections.

"Just another broken-down robotnik, just another beggar hunting the night streets looking for a handout or a fix or both."

Miriam's sister Isobel Chow is in love with Motl, an ex-soldier who was mechanically rebuilt over and over until he is more machine than man. Robots haven't been made for a long time and these veterans end up on the street begging for replacement parts to keep going. He no longer recalls what wars he had fought, but the vision of war and death remain. He is an ex-addict of the faith drug Crucifixion. Now his parts are breaking down, but his feelings are strong. "Sometimes you needed to believe you could believe, sometimes you had to figure heaven could come from another human being and not just in a pill."

"This part of the world had always needed a messiah."

R. Brother Patch-It is a robo-priest and part-time moyel. "We dream a consensus of reality," he preaches. It feels tired, old, his parts wearing out, and sometimes he is envious of the human trait of sensation and stimulation. "To be a robot, you needed faith, R. Patch-It thought. To be a human, too."

On the flip side, Ruth Cohen longs to be part of something bigger, a total immersion in The Conversation, the linked awareness made possible through the node implant. "Are you willing to give up your humanity?" she is asked.

Behind these otherworldly characters are still basic stories of humanity's essence: the search for love and meaning.

"It is, perhaps, the prerogative of every man or woman to imagine, and thus force a shape, a meaning, onto that wild and meandering narrative of their lives by choosing genre. A princess is rescued by a prince; a vampire stalks a victim in the dark; a student becomes the master. The circle is complete. And so on."

"There comes a time in a man's life when he realizes stories are lies. Things do not end neatly."

My son, blog writer of Battered, Tattered, Yellowed and Creased, raved about Tidhar's book (read his review here) which motivated me to request it through NetGalley. Central Station has won multiple awards and huge recognition. It is sure to be a classic. I thank the publisher for the ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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Empecemos por Central Station, la que ha sido para mí la mejor de las dos con bastante diferencia. aquí nos encontramos con un fix-up de varios relatos sueltos que el autor, Lavie Thidar, ha juntado, y con algunos pequeños retoques, a conseguido formar una novela corta interconectada a partir de sus personajes. Y es que en definitiva ésta es una novela donde lo más importante son sus PERSONAJES, así en mayúsculas, y la ciudad dónde viven, la Estación Central.

Con esto, quiero decir, que es una novela lenta, que hay que leer con calma y saboreando cada relato y viendo las pequeñas conexiones que vamos encontrando en cada uno, encontrándonos poco a poco con la evolución de cada personaje, su pasado y lo que puede a llegar a ser su futuro en un mundo donde el choque de culturas, la realidad virtual, y una especie alienígena conocida como los Otro, conforman una realidad y unos problemas cotidianos no tan distantes a los nuestros.

Así en, Central Station, nos encontramos con un libro de ciencia ficción de las de pensar y reflexionar sobre nuestra vida y las relaciones que tenemos con la gente que nos rodea, con temas actuales revestidos con avances tecnológicos, robots, IAs, aliens, que han moldeado este mundo pero que quizá no nos quede tan lejos como pensamos. Ciencia ficción de altos vuelos, a la cuál recomiendo a todo el mundo sin ninguna duda. Y Lavie Tidhar, un escritor que tenía pendiente y al que tengo que empezar a leer más de él.

NOTA: 5 / 5

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