Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. James MandelI admit it. Station Eleven really impressed me! It’s a very high quality entry into the post-apocalyptic subgenre of science fiction. And let’s face it: it’s not an easy feat for literary fiction to employ SF elements this well. (See what I did there?)

In all seriousness, literary fiction too often sacrifices or minimizes the SFnal worldbuilding and plot in favor of the literary part of the equation. This book, however, succeeds in making a global pandemic apocalypse feel real *and* seem utterly plausible.

The novel opens on the day the pandemic begins. A famous film actor is starring in a production of King Lear. He has a heart attack on stage right in front of a very young girl who is playing one of other characters. A member of the audience with medial training tries to assist, but it’s too late. The story fast forwards fifteen years into the future. The very young actress is now a young adult who has learned to survive in the new, dangerous world without civilization.

The narrative zooms back and forth through time, using multiple point of view characters including the young actress, the film star, and the paramedic who tries to save him in order to tell the story. It’s obvious that the author gave a lot of thought to how a species-killing flu might spread, how civilization would fall, who would survive, what they’d consider important, and how we might start to put our civilization back together again. The book is nostalgic, frightening, and hopeful by turns, and the author provides us with some beautiful take-aways about our lives. Well done! Both literary fiction readers and SF fans will find things to appreciate here. Highly recommended.

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