Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Type: ARC ebook (NetGalley)
Keywords: sci-fi opera, Tel Aviv, diversity, cyborgs, data vampires
Have you ever read a book where you felt that the central character in the book wasn’t the human, but the location? Central Station is that kind of book. Central Station is a (the?) spaceport in Tel Aviv and like all ports, is the central hub for the masses to gather or journey to the stars. You will see everyone here: Chinese and Filipino refugees, people from Mars or beyond the Belt, cyborgs…everyone and everything can be found here. Connecting them all is the Conversation, the digital network that connects all “noded” life and cascades them with everyone’s data streams. In the end, Central Station is just a building. The story introduces several characters that are intertwined by history, family, and love. Through their connection, they become the witnesses of the next step in evolution that may transcend the physical and digital realities.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the familiarity and accessibility of this world that Tidhar created. The book is filled with futuristic technologies (though we can already see the beginnings of these now) yet the image I got wasn’t pristine and sleek. The technology is used and grungy (think original Stars Wars versus the prequels). Speaking of familiarity, the characters are diverse and multi-racial across the board, even alien. Mama Jones, one of the many characters you meet is half Nigerian and Filipino (do you know how amazing it is to see Filipinos written in a sci-fi book?!). The Others are digital entities that hang around the Conversation. The characters also come from a diverse economic background, from the bottom rungs of homeless veteran cyborgs to the working class of Mama Jones and Boris Chang, where his family’s history in the city defines his somewhat upper-class standing than anything else.
Another theme that stuck me is the commentary on technology: how it affects us and the possibilities of our relationship with it in the future. Achimwene a Nigerian-Filipino and brother to Mama Jones is one of the only humans left that isn’t “noded”, physical nodes inserted in the body during childhood in order to connect online, or the Conversation as it’s called in the book. People look at Achimwene with pity and consider him crippled. Even Achimwene is caught wondering what it would be like to always be connected and hear everyone’s thoughts around you, to always know what is going on. How many of us feel that way already today? When was the last time we felt left out of a conversation when we didn’t see the latest trend or meme on Facebook or Twitter? FOMO anyone? Other fascinating characters abound: Carmel is a digital strigoi or vampire that sucks her victim’s data streams in order to live. Vlad an elderly man is suffering under a futuristic Alzheimer’s disease where he is bombarded with data overload of memories of his father and past relatives. And of course, the mysterious two children Kranki and Ismail who may be the next step of the merger between the digital and physical spaces.
Okay, I know up until now I’ve been talking about ‘technology this’ and ‘technology’ that on this book, but to be fair Tidhar does a great job in focusing on the community too. People are still heading over to Mama Jones’ bar to grab a drink of arak. Generations of families and refugees have stayed in Central Station, it’s a place where people still have face to face contact. The human connection is still slightly there; if anything, people use the Conversation to gauge a person’s actual feelings and possibly any other background information needed for that current interaction.
Central Station is a sci-fi opera story that stays on Earth. This book may not have the shooting lasers and adrenaline space chases that pepper “successful” sci-fi today, but if you want something close to home, a collective story of people, technology, and the connections that bind us, digitally or not, read this book.
Gem Rating: 💎 💎 💎 💎 💎