By Emily St. John Mandel
Writers are in love with the concept of a killer flu devastating the human race. For years they’ve crafted stories that create the “what if I was there?” mindset. How would we cope? Would we even survive? Fans of Stephen King were treated to this premise in his classic The Stand.
Emily St. John Mandel takes a different approach. She’s not so much wrapped up in the act of survival as she is in the soul of survival. And that’s an exceptional way to handle an otherwise familiar plot.
A pandemic called the Georgian Flu wipes out most of humanity, leaving isolated pockets of people around the globe. Mandel uses this premise to point out how much we take for granted. You automatically assume you’ll be driving to work tomorrow . . . and then there are no jobs. No cars. No electricity. No . . . anything. Our species instantly is thrown back hundreds of years. At one point in the story you see the wonder of an abandoned airport, with a fleet of jumbo jets waiting for passengers who will never depart. I like that imagery.
It’s easy to see how chip-based technology becomes useless. But what if one group of people refused to let the arts die? Station Eleven tells the story of a troupe of actors who wander the Great Lakes region, performing music and plays for the rag-tag groups of survivors who hunger for these particular remnants of civilization.
The book jumps between pre-apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic settings, so you get alternating timelines. And – just to make it a bit more complicated – it also dashes between character viewpoints. Some people find that unsettling, but I think it helped to draw a larger story together.
You might label this book science fiction, and there are certainly elements of that genre here. But it’s not a hard-science book. This is more about the preservation of our basic humanity, told with characters coping in a world we can barely imagine. The Walking Dead does the same thing: putting less emphasis on how the apocalypse happened and more on the way humans handle it. Thankfully, Station Eleven is devoid of zombies.
Pick it up at The Tattered Cover Book Store. If you mention Dom’s Book Club, they’ll take 20% off the cost of this title. Happy reading!