Neom (a novel from the world of Central Station) by Lavie Tidhar (book review).

Set in the world of Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Central Station’ novel, ‘Neom’ shares the same rich and varied history, multiple cultures, traditions and strange exotic secrets. It also emulates the measured and mesmeric quality of prose that first captures readers with the original ‘Central Station’ stories that appeared in the ‘Interzone’ magazine.

This book is written in the form of a novel rather than the linked short stories of ‘Central Station’, but still presents a fabulous variety of characters and settings that gradually lead towards a united conclusion.

From the very start, the atmosphere engulfed me as I delved once more into this world of Lavie Tidhar’s imagination. I could almost feel the heat and the glare of the sun as the megalopolis that is Neom is slowly introduced through the eyes of Mariam, one of the city’s poor who holds down several jobs to make a living. This also gives us the perfect opportunity to experience various and disparate aspects of the city through her jaded eyes.

The novel is set several centuries from now, when the solar system has been colonised and a huge range of human developments have come to pass. There are cyborgs, robots, Artificial Intelligences and a raft of other mixtures of the three. Some are only mentioned in passing in this book, having been explored in more detail in other stories, but all of these add to the rich texture of the background.

This is a much gentler novel than some of Lavie Tidhar’s other work, the brutal and unforgiving ‘By Force Alone’ springs to mind, and makes for a cosy, enjoyable read. Saleh is a young lad looking for adventure, Nasir is a policeman who rekindles his childhood affection for Mariam and Mukhtar is a dealer in antiquities who likes to serve tea and show hospitality.

Even though other characters have darker pasts as assassins, murderers or terrorists, the book does not dwell on their deeds but follows their time in and around Neom as they come to terms with their past, relive their memories and piece together a future. As each character goes about their own lives and quests, slowly and inexorably, they are brought together by fate and by circumstance, leading to a magical conclusion.

Lavie Tidhar adds an enjoyable epilogue in which his own fascination with and enthusiasm for the world of Central Station shine through and offer hope that more is to come. The glossary at the end, too, was a welcome addition, reminding me of things that came up in the earlier book and rounding out the experience. I’m looking forward to finding out where Lavie Tidhar takes us next.

Gareth D Jones

June 2022

(pub: Tachyon Publications, 2022. 224 page enlarged paperback. Price: $17.95 (US), £15.55 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61696382-8) before you ask, we did have the advance copy 6 months ago.

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