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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

September 5, 2015


In the course of a few weeks, a global pandemic wipes out the majority of the world’s population. Society as we know it collapses. The infrastructure collapses. Communication, technology, state apparatuses, everything as we know it goes down.

Leap ahead twenty years, where a band of musicians and theater actors cross the haunting landscape like a mash-up between Chaucer and The Road. Place to place, connecting town to town, delivering news in person, performing for strangers. They are constantly on guard—without the protection of police or any militaries, the world has become a very dangerous place. There are thieves and murderers and crazy people. There are rumors of strange cults—nothing spawns religious inclinations like a seemingly divine tragedy. And there is human drama within the group.

As the group travels and performs, we get flashbacks of their previous lives, before the collapse, their personal journeys intermingled with a history of the collapse and its aftermath. Mandel slams two stakes in the ground—one at the beginning and one toward the end—then masterfully weaves a tapestry between them. As backstories unfold, characters and events connect in meaningful and surprising ways, leaving us with a story that feels complete.

Not only that, amidst the tragedy and loss, there is an overarching sense of hope, of resilience, an appreciation for the simple, everyday beauty of life. By stripping away all the artifice, Mandel exposes how unnecessary and pointless much of modern life is. The pandemic is a frightening blend of sci-fi and current events, but what results is a world that is in many ways idyllic, necessarily focused on survival, but with a rebirth of community, art and purpose. Station Eleven is haunting, lyrical, insightful and, ultimately hopeful. I would put it on the shelf next to The Stand and The Road as superb post-apocalypse fiction.

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