About halfway through Lavie Tidhar's new book, which is set in and around a colossal space port in a future Tel Aviv, I looked up from the galley copy I was reading on the subway and glanced around at my fellow passengers, all focused (as I often am) on their devices, some poring over their Twitter feeds or scrolling through Instagram, others talking in short bursts when their phones picked up a signal.
The scene was eerily reminiscent of the Conversation, the constant digital chatter among people, plants, and machines that forms the fabric of Tidhar's post-singularity world. In Central Station, as in some of the best speculative fiction, many moments shimmer with that frisson of recognition.
The novel is made up of a coherent set of linked short stories, most of which were previously published and substantially revised. Humankind has begun colonizing space, and everyone is connected to the Conversation from birth. Or rather, almost everyone; those who lack the necessary node are considered diminished, to be pitied.
Tidhar introduces the science fictional elements of his world deftly, with just enough information to keep the reader eager to learn more. There are robots and cyborgs, tentacle junkies and a data vampire, and the Others, evolved from digital intelligence. The so-called children of the station were, as an in-the-know doctor puts it, "labbed, right here, hacked together out of public property genomes and bits of black market nodes," and they exist simultaneously in the real and virtual worlds.
At the mall-like Central Station's faith bazaar, one may visit a Catholic church, a mosque—or the Elronite Centre for the Advancement of Humankind. The book is rife with such real-world winks, as well as nods to a library's worth of science fiction greats. Recognizing the book's literary references is half the fun; as a dabbler in rather than a devoted reader of SF, I have a new reading list and a lot of catching up to do.
But more important than the in-jokes and flights of imagination that make the novel a wild, heady ride, Central Station is populated by characters, not all of them entirely human, that feel recognizable and real. The non-Western setting and cast—descendents of immigrants to Tel Aviv from China, Nigeria, the Philippines, and elsewhere—is notable and refreshing, and completely uncontrived.
This slender book, less than 300 pages, spans generations without compromising character development. Estranged lovers reunite; elders contemplate, even long for, mortality; and adoptive parents care for their weird, weird lab-grown children. I don't know whether Tidhar has more stories about Central Station planned, but I'd love to find out what happens to those children when they grow up.