Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I loved Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel! It is present day in Toronto when the characters we've just met are faced with the outbreak of a deadly flu pandemic. And by deadly, I mean really deadly. More than 99 percent of the world's population is killed. It happens extremely quickly- from the moment a person begins to feel ill, they have less than forty- eight hours to live. Suddenly, nearly the everyone is dead. There is no one to maintain the electrical grid, causing the lights and all other electricity to switch off. Transportation breaks down as the people hoping to flee their cities to get away from the flu encounter unbreakable traffic jams, drivers dead in their cars. With no law enforcement, looting and violent crime run rampant causing even more deaths. Then the story flashes forward twenty years and we get to see how the world has adjusted, coped, with the new reality. People have survived and they have made new lives for themselves.

One of my favorite things about this book is that we get to see what happens next. So often with post-apocalyptic fiction, we see the event that causes the "end of the world" and we see the chaos, the anarchy, that ensues, but we don't get to see the rebuilding of civilization, however different that may look from the past. In Station Eleven, that is exactly what we get to see. I enjoyed watching how the practicality of life, the things we take for granted, fall apart surprisingly quickly.

We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie... it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt.

No electricity, no running water, no cell phones, no internet, no transportation other than your own feet. No way to know if the people you love are alive or dead. And no way to reach them either way. It is frankly terrifying. I have little confidence in my own ability to survive and the thought of trying to keep my family alive is even worse. On the other hand, this book does bring up some interesting things to consider about survival, not least of which is the quality of the life we will live if we survive. One set of characters is a traveling troupe of actors and musicians and their motto is taken from an episode of Star Trek Voyager :

Survival is insufficient. 

The only complaint I had about this book was that the transitions between characters was abrupt and rather sharp, but I suppose that adds to the disjointed atmosphere the author was hoping to create. Also, the ending was awfully quick and left me wanting more. Perhaps that is a clever trick on the author's part, but I can't help but hope for a sequel. According to the author's website, that is highly unlikely. The good news is that she has sold the film rights, so we could possibly see this wonderful book on the big screen. If you haven't read this book yet, and I certainly waited too long, then get started now. I loved it.

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