Today, we have an excerpt from Neom, Lavie Tidhar‘s highly-anticipated second novel set in the Central Station universe. If you’re a fan of Tidhar’s previous work, then you’re definitely going to want to check this out. If you’re new to his books, then perhaps start with Central Station before diving into this one. Here’s the synopsis:
The city known as Neom is many things to many beings, human or otherwise. Neom 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 Saleh has joined a caravan, hoping to earn his passage off-world from Central Station. 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.
1. The City
Beyond Central Station, that vast spaceport that links Earth with the teeming worlds of the solar system, there is a city. The city lies past the Gulf of Aqaba and the Straits of Tiran, in the old Saudi desert province that was once called Tabuk. The founders of the city called it Neom.
In sandstorm season the hot air is cooled down by gusts of wind blown into the wide boulevards of the city. The solar fields and wind farms that stretch from beyond the city proper deep into the inland desert capture all the energy Al Imtidad needs, feeding it back to serve all the city’s needs.
On the shores of the Red Sea the sunbathers gather. The bars are open late. The kuffar sit smoking sheesha as children run laughing on the beach. Suntanned youths kite-surf in the wind. It is said it’s always spring in Neo-Mostaqbal, in Neom. It is said the future always belongs to the young.
Mariam de la Cruz, who came trudging down Al Mansoura Avenue, was no longer so young, though she did not consider herself in the least bit old. It was more of that in-between time, when life finds a way to remind you of both what you’d lost and what lay still ahead.
Of course she was perfectly fine. But she was minutely aware of the ticking clock of senescence on the cellular level. Or in other words, ageing. Which was a problem in a city like Neom, which had been built and then sold—floated on the stock exchanges of Nairobi Prime and Gaza-Under-Sea and Old Beijing—on the premise that anything can be fixed, made good, made better, that things do not have to remain the way they’d been.
In Neom, everything was meant to be beautiful, ever since the young prince Mohammad of the Al Saud dynasty first dreamed up the idea of building a city of the future in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula and along the Red Sea. Now it was a mammoth metropolitan area.
Al Imtidad, the locals called it. The urban sprawl.
Mariam had grown up there, had never known another place. Her mother came to Neom from the Philippines in search of work, had met Mariam’s father, a truck driver from Cairo who knew the desert roads from Luxor to Riyadh, from Alexandria to Mecca.
He was dead now, her father, had died in a collision on the border of Oman, delivering Chinese goods to the markets of Nizwa. She still missed him.
Her mother had lived on, remarried once, was now in a care facility on the edge of town, in the Nineveh Quarter. Much of what Mariam made went on paying the fees. It was a good place, her mother was well cared for. In the old days families would live together, would look after each other. But now there was only Mariam.
Now she walked, slowly in the heat, cars zooming past her in all directions. Latest model Bohrs, a Faraday roadster, a Gauss II black cab. No one ever named cars after poets, she thought. Her own taste in poetry ran to the neo-classical: Ng Yi-Sheng, Lior Tirosh. They weren’t the most famous, they just . . . were.
The cars swarmed around her, ferrying people every which way. They resembled the movement of fish flocks, the way they flowed independently yet in unison. It was illegal to drive a car in Al Imtidad. They were all run by an inference engine. It was usually the way of things, Mariam had found. People didn’t trust other people for things like driving them, or for making investment decisions, or for medical care.
Unless, of course, it was a matter of status.
Lavie Tidhar’s Neom is due to be published by Tachyon Publications in North America and in the UK, on November 9th.
Also on CR: Interview with Lavie Tidhar (2019); Excerpt from The Best of World SF, Volume 1; Reviews of The Violent Century and By Force Alone