Lavie Tidhar is joining us today to talk about his novel, Neom. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Machines roam the desert in search of purpose; works of art can be deadlier than weapons, and improbable love transcends the sands of time. From the multiaward-winning universe of Central Station, a complex desert-city of the future’s inhabitants rediscover passion while at the brink of revolution.
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.
What’s Lavie’s favorite bit?
I was in the middle of our second pandemic lockdown, in the cold of winter and unable to concentrate on the huge literary novel, Maror, that I was supposed to be writing. Instead, the image came to me of a robot and a flower. I didn’t know who the robot was or what it was doing, so I wrote it to find out. The robot confounded me. It bought a rose in the market of the city of Neom, a would-be megalopolis sprawled along the Red Sea, the real-world fever-dream of a Saudi prince. Then the robot took the flower it bought, took it deep into the desert, left it beside a long-forgotten cenotaph of a long-forgotten war, and then it casually stomped on a scorpion with its foot.
It was that last act that gave me pause. Who exactly was this robot – clearly no stranger to death – and what was it looking for in the desert? I wrote some more. The robot was digging something up in sands – the remnants of a golden man.
The robot was clearly trouble. By then I was hooked on finding out the rest. I wrote Neom as the purest form of escape, returning to the wider world of my future history that encompasses Central Station and over forty short stories, taking side trips to Titan and Mars, and exploring the lives of small people trying to make a living in a wildly futuristic world. Winter turned to spring and pandemic restrictions were slowly lifting. Humans and robots swarmed across the Arabian Peninsula in search of better lives, too. I got to revisit the places I knew, the coasts of the Sinai and the ancient port towns of Egypt. I knew the old wars, too, sadly. But in Neom the wars were all of the ancient past, even if their ghosts still haunted the city’s present.
Ultimately, I think, my favorite bit was writing a hopeful novel again, in the middle of a terrible winter. Humans and old machines meet in the city and their destinies revolve around a flower, around old and new loves. I was surprised, back when Central Station was published, that it was taken up in this way – as a hopeful vision of the future. For myself, I only really wanted to play with all the fabulous toys of Golden Age SF – spaceships and robots, domed cities on Mars and what have you – but as it turned out, in order to do that, I had to assume humanity hadn’t destroyed itself, that it survived climate catastrophe and wide-scale war – in other words, my assumptions were by default optimistic.
Which is no bad thing, I think! In a world full of dystopias of varying shades of depressing – all those pandemic novels, sooo many pandemic novels! – maybe there is a place for a tiny little hopeful work where things more or less work out in the end.
In the end, I think, my favorite bit was writing a book where the wars are long behind us; and where people – and robots – still take the time to look at a flower.
British Science Fiction, Prix Planète, and World Fantasy Award winning author Lavie Tidhar (A Man Lies Dreaming, The Escapement, Unholy Land, The Hood) is an acclaimed author of literature, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, and middle grade fiction. Tidhar received the Campbell, Xingyun, and Neukom awards for the novel Central Station. In addition to his fiction and nonfiction, Tidhar is the editor of the Apex Best of World Science Fiction series and a columnist for the Washington Post. His speaking appearances include Cambridge University, PEN, and the Singapore Writers Festival. He has been a Guest of Honour at book conventions in Japan, Poland, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, China, and elsewhere; he is currently a visiting professor and writer in residence at the American International University. Tidhar currently resides with his family in London.