Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar

25986774Central Station is a middle Eastern border city, a huge spaceport between Israeli Tel Aviv and Arab Jaffa. Space travel is but a tiny element of the book, and Tidhar is more interested in those scrabbling to survive at the foot of the gleaming towers. If there’s a throughline to the novel, it’s the Chong family and their affiliates – the book follows various Chongs, with the most pagetime given to Boris, recently returned to Earth from space. His lovers, father, cousins and various other connections (an artist who makes and kills gods, a rag and bone man who may well be immortal, a young woman infected with a disease akin to vampirism that makes her thirst for data) all take centre stage for a while before fading back into the mass of humanity that makes up Central Station. And that’s really my only gripe with this book. You can throw around phrases like “mosaic novel”, or “collage fiction”, but there is no escaping that this book is a collection of short stories loosely lashed together. There’s no overarching plot (well, there are hints of something in the background), several dangling threads and not a great deal of action. But what you do get is an outstanding depiction of this new society. Tidhar has created something recognisably human, yet quite alien at the same time. It reminds me in some ways of Ian MacDonald’s great SF novels set in the world’s emerging economies where the shock of the new is multiplied by our Western unfamiliarity with existing cultures and mores. The writing is tremendously evocative of this future culture. You will taste the dust of Central Station in the back of your throat by the time you finish. It’s a book that has lingered in my mind, probably one of the best SF novels that will be published in 2016, but not one to be read for quick thrills.

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