Lavie Tidhar’s Neom returns to the setting of his previous Central Station. In this case the title once again is taken from the key location in the story, an old city with a new mixture of people and tech that barely make sense with one another.
Key characters include a former robot soldier, tired and thoughtful with a grim determination to reconstruct another old machine. Saleh is a young man who has lost everyone he knows while scavenging, and now attempts to move with a caravan so that he can sell their small amount of salvage. An old robot is murdered, and a flower seller mourns it even as a police officer insists the most serious crime it might amount to is littering. A talking jackal is bored.
One delightful aspect of this book, and other works in the setting by Tidhar, is that it manages to make a postapocalyptic setting sing. Descriptions can be strange, bizzare, even farcical, and yet come across as entirely believable. Even when the matter of the talking jackals is treated believably if amusingly.
Love, loss and nostalgia are among the key thematic elements of this volume. Someone losing their whole family and trying to find a new life, someone else clinging to a long dead loved one with what might be disasterous results. Each finds themselves bringing together what connections they have because something, deep down, feels like it is missing.
Expectations play a certian role as well, particularly for artificial lifeforms. The question of being useful, serving a purpose of one type or another is placed on a pedestal. This is a strange decision in a book where the geopolitical landscape is non-existent compared to what it was before the in-universe wars, yet employed individuals like a flower seller or cop are treated as paragons and a robot working as a killer is treated matter of factly. Those without “gainful” work like a hermit archeologist and a group of genetically engineered war deserters are treated as bizzare and unlikeable.
While this book is set in the same world as Central Station, it is very much a standalone piece. Indeed the mentions of the location in question are distracting if one has read the previous book, and an unnecessary reminder of a shared world. While these are obtrusive they do not ruin the book, and might even be appreciated by some readers (indeed the reference to Isaac Asimov’s robot stories was less intrusive). As a result concerns about jumping into a series late in the day are almost inverted, with this book possibly working better if one hasn’t read the original.
The book is not exactly a revolutionary reinvention of its genres, yet Neom is an enjoyable and fascinating read. Any fan of the work of Lavie Tidhar should check it out (and fans of Central Station won’t even need to be encouraged), and it’s well worth peeking into for those looking for a multi-layered character focused post-apocalyptic read.
GMR has also reviewed Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land, By Force Alone, and the audiobook of