Monday, July 10, 2017

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar: Fantastic Yet Familiar

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.

Central Station
Lavie Tidhar
Tachyon Publications
ISBN: 9781616962142
$15.95