Central Station

June 14, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

stationCentral Station by Lavie Tidhar

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I tend to prefer novels to short story collections. I don’t mind a short story here or there when I’m in the mood for a shorter work, but I’m usually in the mood for the longer, deeper, more satisfying stories that come from a novel. It takes a lot for me to read a collection, and had I known that Central Station is, in essence, a short story collection, I probably would have passed on it.

To be fair, Central Station is a fix-up novel. That is, Tidhar took a series of related short stories and modified them enough to make them flow as a single novel. I’ve read some good fix-up novels (Foundation among them), but they never feel like a novel. Attention shifts a lot from one character to another, enough so that it’s hard to stay connected to any one character enough to get the connection to the story. Tidhar uses recurring characters and families to maintain a connection, but it doesn’t feel as strong as if he had used just one character.

The book focuses on Central Station, a space station in Tel Aviv around which space travelers have congregated. The story isn’t about space, though; it’s about those travelers and the residents of the town that remains. It takes us through the lives of a handful of characters who represent the best and worst of what’s left. Cybertech is common now, enough so that cyborgs and long-lived humans exist in the story, and Tidhar shows us what humanity is by focusing on what brings us together despite our differences. Robots preach; humans fall in love with cyborgs; data vampires can still be treated with compassion.

(Yes, data vampires. This is a book that’s chock full of ideas that could be novels by themselves, but Tidhar peppers them throughout the story like a seasoning. I can see the other science fiction authors out there gnashing teeth or pulling hair at how many series of books they could have written with something Tidhar throws out there just to establish setting.)

Some of the stories are better than others, which is a shame, since the book is supposed to be taken as a whole. The later stories are better than the early ones, most likely because Tidhar is developing characters we’ve already met, which begs the question: Do I evaluate Central Station as a novel, or as a short story collection? As a novel, it works because we do get some closure and conclusions to the characters, and I can overlook some stumbling that occurs at the start, but as a short story collection, the early stories aren’t as effective. Plus, the later stories work better partly because Tidhar is relying on our already knowing the characters he’s introduced in earlier stories, but how are they as standalone stories? Would I be missing out on crucial details if I hadn’t read the earlier stories first?

I’m probably splitting hairs here, because Tidhar is a good writer, and he has a lot of things to say with his story (stories?). I just can’t help but wish this book had been an actual novel instead of this odd mosaic of novel and short story collection. It does remind me of comic book series, though, where the overall story is broken up into different arcs. Maybe I’m just being too particular.

Started: April 26, 2018
Finished: May 1, 2018

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