Last month saw the publication of Central Station, a collection of short stories by science fiction author Lavie Tidhar. Tidhar, winner of the 2012 World Fantasy Award, is building an impressive body of work. His latest offering demonstrates his ability to take an audacious concept, wed it to contemporary social commentary, and produce something readable and thought-provoking.
All of Tidhar’s novels that I’ve read feature a melting pot of characters and locations. Central Station is no exception. Set in the future, the eponymous travel hub is a space port located in Tel Aviv. A Tel Aviv greatly altered after centuries of future history. Jaffa – Tel Aviv is a city in the Judea Palestina Federal Union. Central Station is the blasting-off point for travel to the rest of the Solar System and beyond.
Like many transit towns, Jaffa – Tel Aviv is teeming with life. Some are just passing through, others are bound to the station, relying on it for their livelihoods. Where these teeming lives intersect, there are stories.
Central Station is a mosaic novel, made up of connected short stories. Most of these have been published elsewhere in slightly different forms. Tidhar has edited these and added a couple more stories to make them into a coherent whole. Whilst there is an overreaching story, the book does feel disjointed. If you like your novels to move from A to B to C, you’re likely find Central Station hard going.
Nevertheless, if you haven’t already, Lavie Tidhar is a novelist well worth discovering.
I first encountered him after reading a Christopher Priest review of Osama, a book with a premise so audacious, I couldn’t but help read it. As its kicking-off point, it portrays Osama bin Laden as the hero in a fictional series called “Osama bin Laden – Vigilante.” The novel is a blend of metaphysical world-melding and private detective novel, and is such a rich confection it really ought not to work, but it does, almost completely. Read my full review here.
Where Osama examines the manner in which we report and respond to terrorism, The Violent Century looks at war and the nature of heroism. The Violent Century takes place mostly in World War II, but in a world where superheroes exist. As with all Tidhar’s novels, I found it stylistically challenging; there aren’t many authors who could pull off starting a chapter with the line “The wheels on the bus go round and round,” but Tidhar manages it.
The Violent Century is a fine novel. Once again Tidhar borrows from traditional noir tropes, this time the spy thriller. He blends this with superhero mythology to examine both whether great power does bring great responsibility, and asks that age-old question, “Who watches the Watchmen?” (Full review here.)
A Man Lies Dreaming is again centered around an audacious premise. It is also one of the finest books I’ve read in the last 10 years. If features Shomer, a prisoner in Auschwitz. Shomer escapes the brutality of his life by imagining a story.
Before the war Shomer was a writer of pulp fiction. His new story, a tale that exists only in his head, makes Adolf Hitler an exile in London in 1939, having been ousted from his country by the communists. Europe is in turmoil, standing on the brink of war. “Wolf” is an almost forgotten footnote of history; a gumshoe, a dick, a detective for hire on the streets of London.
Again, this novel is a blend of styles with homage and references to Chandler and Hammett, but Tidhar borrows from modern writers and Holocaust literature too. He even quotes from political leaflets from Britian’s Anti-Europe party, UKIP. With (only slightly) skewed context, Tidhar shows these slogans for what they are, and in the post-Brexit world, they feel all the more chilling.
Whilst often light in tone, A Man Lie Dreaming is deeply moving. The horror of the Holocaust is dealt with gently, very much on an individual scale. The ease of which humans can become beasts is depicted in subtle shades, and the novel is more powerful for it. (Full review here.)
Returning to Central Station, Tidhar picks up many of the themes and ideas explored in his earlier novels, but places them entirely in the future. He brings his subtle and quirky world-building to a troubled future Earth, one in which a vast computer consciousness has been born.
There is so much going on in 250 pages. Data vampires; a romance with a broken, discarded cyborg; and an artist who can create gods. A young boy whose father has gone to the stars. He has an imaginary friend who might not entirely be a figment. Yet this is barely unusual in a world where nearly everybody is wired into an endless celestial, electronic “Conversation.” Against this we have the mundane. A barkeep, a bookkeeper, and a roving bric-a-brac man.
The narrative meanders all over the place. It’s as varied as its host of characters. Like Tidhar’s other novels Central Station is not always easy-going, but it is always interesting. Central Station has many of similar themes running through it, such as prejudice, acceptance, and seeing things from the other person’s point of view. Tidhar’s novels are full of stylistic quirks. I wouldn’t say he was an experimental writer, but he does like to play with convention, and push beyond what most author’s would consider appropriate style. This gives all his texts a unique feel, and mark him as one of the most interesting writers of science fiction in the business.
I received review copies of all the books mentioned in this piece, except Osama. All books are available now. Lavie Tidhar tweets at @.