One of the hardest jobs a genre writer, or really any writer for that matter has, is creating a believable world. It’s especially tough in science fiction, where your imagination can run wild, but the limits of what’s required for the story have to keep you grounded. I can only really think of a handful of times where a world feels real, breathable, and explorable. Mieville does it with aplomb in Perdido Street Station, Aliya Whiteley nailed it in The Beauty, and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast is stunningly realised. These places stick in our minds because of the sense of place they establish. The worlds the writers play with are worlds that you can map out, walk the streets of and understand the geography. And now? Now you can add Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station to the list.
Central Station is set at an indeterminate point in the future. The titular station is the main spaceport for Earth, ferrying people across the stars for work or a new life, whilst immigrants, humans, robots and other mysterious beings, live amongst the tenement blocks, houses and bustling markets that surround it. Interestingly, Tidhar isn’t all that concerned with finding a central narrative within this world, and appears much more content to explore it. Central Station is not a novel, but rather a collection of intricately connected short stories, each of which shed some light on a different aspect of life and culture in this world he’s created.
The station is of course inspired in part by Tel Aviv’s modern day central terminus, a sprawling behemoth of a building against which, cultures clash and businesses war. The book takes modern conflicts and shifts them cleverly into the future setting, without ever seeming forced.
Each of these stories places the spotlight on a different character – from an artist who creates seasonal sculptures of gods, like alien street-art, the woman who has adopted a strange, genetically modified child, to a robot priest performing a circumcision; Tidhar packs his world with vivid characters who often veer close to people in our own, more recognisable world. That Tidhar can take a story about a pair of robots, and make the reader care for them greatly is to his credit.
Tidhar has always been the kind of writer who succeeded in playing with established tropes – such as The Man in the High Castle influenced Osama, and here is no different. Again, we’re firmly in Dick territory, with stories rooted in concepts from authors like Asimov or Bradbury. It’s in taking these classic (and often rote) tropes from the annals of genre fiction, and using them to tell a much more modern story, that Tidhar succeeds so admirably. So whilst Central Station wears its influences on its sleeve, it never feels worn or tired.
Any Cop?: This is a deeply personal novel and yet it manages to have a huge scope. It’s a really great piece of fiction, and one of the most interesting science-fiction novels of recent years.