"The Book Seller" takes place in Tel Aviv, but as I discovered when I went back into previous editions of Dozois' series, searching for more by the man, Tidhar's stories in the cycle are just as likely to be set on Titan, or on one of the moons of Pluto. "The Memcordist," a story I found in Year's Best # 30, itself spans the solar system, and is certainly one of the best sci fi short pieces published this century.
Was reading comments somewhere, and the commenter compared the Central Station stories to a less-dense Rajaniemi. That may give you an idea, since Rajaniemi would be pretty fantastic if he just knew how to write characters.
Anyway, all the excitement I felt about the Central Station stories drove me in the direction of the author's non-series novel Osama, which very famously beat out works by George RR Martin and Stephen King to win the World Fantasy Award in 2012. Those who know me and have read here know I've got a few opinions on Global Islamic Terrorism . . . so you might find the review/discussion of the book I wrote somewhat surprising.
But then, Osama is a surprising novel, a fantastic one I wholeheartedly recommend. It's about what you think it is, but only partly so. Perhaps what I've written below will give you some additional things to look for if you choose to read it.
Joe's reality at the beginning of the book has simply unraveled by the end of it, and if that ain't Dickian, I don't know what is.
I enjoyed Osama more than I enjoy most of PKD's fiction, and the reason is interesting to me. Dick, for all the gobsmacking he does, for all the times when he turns the reader's expectations upside-down in the span of one paragraph, was quite ordinary in plot and in characterization. You might well then say that this sets up the greater contrast for him, and I wouldn't argue, but the fact is his characters are boring. They have boring jobs, they're married to boring wives, they live in boring places.
Well, not so Joe. He's a deadpan drinkin' 'n' smokin' gumshoe in Laos. How about that for exotic? How about that for coolness? It's as if Dick had written his Deckard in the way that the movie did. I've been obsessed with cool ever since I learned how to behave and affect my way out of being the grade school nerd; of course I wanna read about Joe. Shit, I'd love to be Joe. Cheap suit, bottle of Johnny Walker in the top drawer of the dusty desk, and always two packs of smokes at hand, in case you empty the first one.
Of course, there's somebody else who deep down wanted to be Joe, and that's the ur-Joe, the Joe that existed before he became a refugee, or fuzzy-wuzzy. And Tidhar wants the reader to think about that well.
Sure, you've got the gradual unmooring of reality. Sure, you've got the pain of these clinically-described terrorist acts, but Osama is also a rumination on how we'd--most of us--love to re-write ourselves in response to social and literary tropes.
The only thing is, Valentine, when confronted by the facts, chooses to resume his earlier life. Silverberg's book is heroic fantasy, and what else would a hero do? Full of duty, he (at times reluctantly) reassumes the mantle of kingship, and goes back to who he had been.
But Joe's no hero, and neither are most of the rest of us. At the end of the book, Joe is literally slapped into recognition of his former life by the woman whom he had loved, and still--STILL--he refuses to go back. He'd rather continue playing the hardboiled detective in the tropical paradise.
Of course there are other things going on. Joe's wife was murdered in ways both brutal and clinical, and that's a pain he'd have had to deal with every day for the rest of his life had he chosen a return.
Yet it remains that Joe took the easy and lazy path. He uncovered the truth and ignored it, and I can only assume it was because he liked the fantasy life--the cardboard fantasy character he was playing--better.
You see criticism of Tidhar's characterization in Osama here and there. I find that interesting because his Central Station stories are almost exclusively focused on character, at least given their particular exotic milieu. So, what? Did Tidhar forget his characterization skills for Osama?
Not likely. Instead, I'm sure that he wrote to pulp trope to serve a purpose, to highlight an uncomfortable truth about us: that we'd play a fantasy role, even a stock one, rather than inhabit the well-rounded, if mundane, one we are all heir to.
Osama by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars