I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Lavie Tidhar to share with you today! He’s the editor of The Best of World SF (Volume 1 and Volume 2), and his writing includes the World Fantasy Award–winning novel Osama and the science fiction novel Central Station, which received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Neukom Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction, and the Xingyin Award (among several other award nominations). Neom, a standalone novel set in the same world as Central Station, is out today!


Cover of Neom by Lavie Tidhar
More Information & Book Excerpt

About NEOM:

Today, Neom is a utopian dream—a megacity of the future yet to be built in the Saudi desert. In this deeply imaginative novel from the award-winning universe of Central Station, far-future Neom is already old. Sentient machines roam the desert searching for purpose, works of art can be more deadly than weapons, and the spark of a long-overdue revolution is in the wind. Only the rekindling of an impossible love affair may slow the inevitable sands of time.

“This was superb and I’m in awe of Tidhar’s vision. He’s conjured up a futuristic city that feels simultaneously ultramodern and also run down. The rich histories of the region and its cultures are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of this fully-realized world.”
The Speculative Shelf

The city known as Neom is many things to many beings, human or otherwise. It is a tech wonderland for the rich and beautiful, an urban sprawl along the Red Sea, and a port of call between Earth and the stars.

In the desert, young orphan Elias has joined a caravan, hoping to earn his passage off-world. But the desert is full of mechanical artefacts, some unexplained and some unexploded. Recently, a wry, unnamed robot has unearthed one of the region’s biggest mysteries: the vestiges of a golden man.

In Neom, childhood affection is rekindling between loyal shurta-officer Nasir and hardworking flower-seller Mariam. But Nasu, a deadly terrorartist, has come to the city with missing memories and unfinished business. Just one robot can change a city’s destiny with a single rose—especially when that robot is in search of lost love.

Lavie Tidhar’s (Unholy LandThe Escapement) newest lushly immersive novel, Neom, which includes a guide to the Central Station universe, is at turns gritty, comedic, transportive, and fascinatingly plausible.

Another Science Fiction
Lavie Tidhar

A while back, I got one of those ideas I have for books that make no sense for anyone to write. This comprises pretty much all my books – A Man Lies Dreaming has the preposterous elevator pitch of “Adolf Hitler: Private Eye” and The Escapement was “a clown western”, and so on. You get what I’m saying.

So I had one of those ideas.

And the idea was that, as much as I love the sort of American science fiction I grew up on, I wanted to write something that was the total opposite of it. I wanted to write “a science fiction novel where nothing happens”. No action-adventure plot. No lone space cowboy saving the world. No galactic empires and exploding spaceships and all that. In fact, it was going to be a book where America never even got mentioned. It was, in short, a ridiculous idea, and the only thing I knew with any certainty was that no one was going to publish it.

I was briefly living back in Israel at the time, and became fascinated with the area around Tel Aviv’s central bus station. The station itself is a giant monstrosity, a cavernous mini-universe with its own nuclear fall-out shelter. Around it live a community of the dispossessed: African refugees and economic migrants from Asia, in crumbling Bauhaus neighbourhoods that became Tel Aviv’s drug and prostitution hotspot a long way back.

It was, in short, an ideal space to write a science fiction novel around.

I grew up reading American SF in translation. Lord of Light and Nova, Dune and Gateway, Zenna Henderson and Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, The Stars My Destination and City and Ringworld. You know. The classics. Asimov and PKD. Le Guin and Silverberg. And so on.

I wanted to write, I decided, a novel where nothing happened, about people who didn’t save the galaxy or had adventures. Instead of a lone hero I would write about the big extended family that I knew all too well. Where your second cousin’s aunt by marriage isn’t talking to your great uncle’s son from the other side because of whatever happened at your third cousin’s Bar Mitzvah two decades ago. A world where a lone hero couldn’t exist because to exist they must live in a network of familial obligations. You can’t go off to have adventures when you have a bris to go to first.

This, I knew. Space cowboys saving the universe I knew less about.

But I wanted to take all the shiny toys from those books I loved. The robots and the spaceships, the bio-hacking and the A.I., domed cities on Mars and broken down androids, even sand worms, and all the rest of it. And then, I wanted to put them in the background and sort of ignore them and just write about the little people who have to live their lives against that shiny, Golden Age future.

All I knew for sure was that no one was ever going to publish it.

So I came up with a plan. Some of my favourite science fiction came from the days of the pulp magazines. Authors would write the book in sections that worked as stand-alone short stories. They would then sell the stories to the magazines, get published and even be paid. Later on they took the stories, put them together and made them back into a novel. City. Lord of Light. Foundation. I could go on.

I knew, at that point, that I could sell short stories. And if I did it in this way, I could also take my time writing it, and write “proper” books in the meantime, and just work on my Central Station (as I decided to call it) stories/novel when I had a chance.

It pretty much worked, too. I wrote it over five or six years and sold the stories as planned, and then I tried to put it back together again into a book and couldn’t quite work out how it all fit together, and the only thing I really knew for sure was that no one was going to publish it anyway. I figured I would put it out myself, but my agent, for some reason, liked the idea of the book and convinced me to hold off on it and then sold it to Tachyon. Who then sent me a page of editorial notes that told me exactly how to make all the pieces fit to make it back into the novel I imagined.

So, as it turned out, I was wrong. Central Station did get published, and then it continued to get published around the world, and it even picked up some awards along the way.

I don’t get it either! Some readers always complain they didn’t like it because “it has no plot” and “nothing happens” – which was kind of the point.

Over the years I kept writing short stories set in the same extended universe – some on Mars, or Titan, or Earth again – but the idea of coming back to that universe in another novel proved elusive, and besides, I had other things to write. But then came the pandemic, and by the second lockdown we had I could think of nothing else to do but to step back into something that gave me comfort. The image of a robot and a rose came into my mind. I thought I’d write a tiny science fiction story. I wrote it. One day a robot comes to the city of Neom, on the shores of the Red Sea. It buys a rose and takes it into the desert…

I was about to send it off when it occurred to me I had no idea why the robot had come to Neom. Why it bought a rose. Why it carried it out to the desert. What was this robot doing?

I wrote another story to find out. Then another. Then realised I wasn’t writing short stories at all – I was writing the chapters of a novel.

I wrote the rest of it just to find out what happens.

These days I don’t often write a book not knowing where it goes. This was a novelty, and I wrote it purely for fun, following the lives of imaginary people (and a talking jackal and a bad-tempered robot) as the world froze around me. I’d gone back to the world of Central Station, and back into its ethos – that this was to be not an American SF novel but another kind of science fiction. It moves from Earth to the outer reaches of the solar system, and back, and there is even some peril, of a sort, but no one has to save the world because people are too busy making a living and mourning or falling in love and looking after elderly relatives. They live everyday lives, against the shiny background of a science fiction future.

I think I’m happy with that.

Photo of Lavie Tidhar British Science Fiction, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Award–winning author Lavie Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming, Unholy Land) is an acclaimed author of literature, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, and middle grade fiction. Tidhar received the John W. Campbell, Xingyun, and Neukom Literary awards for the novel Central Station, which has been translated into more than ten languages. He is a book columnist for the Washington Post and recently edited the Best of World Science Fiction anthology. Tidhar currently resides with his family in London.