Central Station

Metadata

  • Media: #Books #Books 2020
    • Author: Lavie Tidhar
    • Status: #read
    • Date: September 28th, 2020
    • Keywords: #fiction #anthology #scifi #cyberpunk #weirdfiction
    • Rating: ★★★☆☆
    • Idea richness: ★★★★★
    • Links: Goodreads

Thoughts

Central Station is a collection of brain-bending worldbuilding concepts and wonderful sci-fi twists masquerading as semi-coherent story destined to be unsatisfying in comparison to the raw ideas. But dang if there aren't some brilliant ideas in there.

Deliciously weird and wonderful worldbuilding

  • Ancient, battle cyborgs, now rejected but still wandering the cities with glimpses of the memories of their past life.
  • Data vampires sucking out memories and spreading their curse.
  • Vat-grown children using hacked proprietary features and a possiblel messiah breeding program.
  • A family line cursed to remember each other's memories.
  • Weather hackers.
  • 'Others' - Alien, AI-like entities living in the 'conversation' stream of consciousness bonded to select humans.
  • And that's just to name a few!

Nested character portraits build up a world, but not a plot

Central Station is composed of snapshots and characters, each chapter picking up with a new perspective and new ideas about the world as the characters' lives intersect in the ever shifting cyberpunk landscape of a simultaneously ancient and modern Tel Aviv. It's like a Russian nesting doll of interconnected families, social and economic struggle, and juicy cyberpunk worldbuilding. Contrasting perspectives paint a vivid portrait of the world but also deeply personal as the stories become progressively more linked and interconnected.

Unfortunately that is where the disappointment sets in. Central Station packs in so much it's impossible to fulfil that kind of promise. As the stories collide and overarching story threads began to take central stage, the collection kinda of just... ends. I'm sure there was some wonderful philosophical meanings but shallow old me was really hoping for more of a cohesive conclusion to the data-vampire, messiah-bred children, Others-conspiracy that was taking shape.

It also doesn't help that some of the concepts, especially revolving around the Others and the 'conversation' (constantly connected stream of consciousness/internet/virtual reality of sorts) become more involved it can also be harder to understand exactly what is happening. In that sense, it reminded me a little of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (which, if you like Central Station, you'll LOVE). However, considering the amount of original, high-concept ideas jammed in here, confusion happens far less than it could.

Overall

If you like short stories or appreciate anything even vaguely weird, wonderful, and original, read Central Station. Just don't come for a cohesive plot or let the brilliant buildup drive you to expect a worldshattering conclusion... or any satisfying conclusion, really.

Quotes

  • "No one was born an oracle"
  • "We each have our own reality, a world made by our senses and our minds. The tapestry of consensus reality is therefore a group effort."
  • "You will find, I’m afraid, that the more you know the less answers you have."
    • "A lab on Level Five where they manufactured viral ads, airborne microscopic agents that transferred themselves from person to person, thriving in a closed-environment, air-conditioned system like Central Station, coded to deliver person-specific offers, organics interfacing with nodal equipment, all to shout Buy. Buy. Buy." --> The viral metaphor in advertising
  • "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."

Scrapbook Concepts

  • Dr. Novum had not yet come back from the stars. --> Space travellers who return to dark age earth much later. Are they telling the truth?
  • Behind his ear the Martian aug pulsed, a parasitic, living thing feeding off its host.
  • a Church of Robot node #factions #locations
  • "big Sino-Russian man, wearing an exoskeleton with a crew of other builders, climbing like metallic spiders over the uncompleted walls of the space port." #characters
  • Offering broken electronics at Church of Robot candlelit shrine #fragments
  • "Robotniks, the lost soldiers of the lost wars of the Jews—mechanized and sent to fight and then, later, when the wars ended, abandoned as they were, left to fend for themselves on the streets, begging for the parts that kept them alive." #creatures
  • "A lab on Level Five where they manufactured viral ads, airborne microscopic agents that transferred themselves from person to person, thriving in a closed-environment, air-conditioned system like Central Station, coded to deliver person-specific offers, organics interfacing with nodal equipment, all to shout Buy. Buy. Buy." #locations #cyberpunk
  • the Lord of Discarded Things #characters #creatures
  • "Ibrahim, too, was Joined, his thumb a golden prosthetic, an Other bonded into his node, human and digital minds commingled." #fragments
  • "Vietnamese battle-dolls used in some long-ago war." #creatures
  • "Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighbourhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes— In autumn the neighbourhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping." #locations
  • Messiah breeding program #fragments #creatures
  • the Palace of Discarded Things #locations
  • Emperor of Time #characters
  • Noah the blind beggar, whose eyes were precious stones #characters
  • Strigoi (vampires) who feed on data and peoples nodes and communication. Suck out their data and memories #cyberpunk #creatures #scifi
  • trans-solar transport, hacked out of space rock in the docks of Mars orbit, centuries before, its hull pockmarked with countless impacts #scifi #locations
  • Intelligent mines tracking in orbit around Callisto, in the space beyond beyond, the song of spiders as they seed the Oort cloud with new nodes #scifi #locations
  • Rather than a loss of memory, a disease/curse causing too many memories #magic #fragments
  • A family line cursed to remember each other's memories. Everything #magic #characters #creatures
  • An ancient mine exploded itself, committing suicide #adventures #mystery
  • Worshipping history #factions #fragments
  • Spiders out in space/cyberspace, singing as they spin more nodes and hubs #creatures #scifi
  • "A country where one saw only the invisible." #worldbuilding #locations
  • Detective sidekick young vampire girl who feeds on memories (or datastream) #characters
  • “You’re a collector of old stories, aren’t you, Achimwene,” he said. “Now you came to collect mine?” #characters
  • Data-vampire, ex-lover, the woman who fell to Earth; #characters #creatures
  • "Such gods moved, if slowly. They crawled on the side of buildings. One year such a god left illegible inscriptions all over the walls and rooftops of Central Station, messages no one could read, spray-painted everywhere in some unknown, alien alphabet." --> "With each season a new godling appeared in the streets and alleyways of Central Station. They were nebulous things, more than human, less than Other, like semi-sentient sculptures" #creatures #fragments
  • Weather hacker #creatures #characters #cyberpunk #magic
  • “The wars were fought on both levels of existence,” he said.
  • Sentient AI elevator. Talks whenever it has a captive audience and remembers everyone who has ever been inside. #characters #creatures
  • "Carmel lay at the centre of the room as the children, like grotesque little rodents, lapped at her blood." #scene
  • Mortality consultant for deaths in a deathless future. Catalogue of methods, including arrangine a faux-murder #fragments #seed #adventures #characters