“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel


In the not too distant future, the Georgia Flu emerges and wipes out a large portion of humanity within a few weeks.  In the ensuing chaos, as people try to flee (but nowhere is immune) but just end up clogging the roads, many more perish.  The book states something like 99.9% mortality.  The survivors are left with the shell of our modern world, but none of the know-how or ability to make it all work.  So they’re back to a pre-industrial society with horse drawn wagons (actually pickup truck beds) and living in old hotels or fast food restaurants or airports.  (Grouping together in larger living quarters is safer than spreading out into houses.)

Inserted into this interesting (and horrifying) backstory, is a somewhat ho-hum story.  About 20 years after the collapse, The Prophet and his gang are terrorizing the upper shores of the Great Lakes with their brand of violent religious mania.  Among other things, they believe they are the chosen ones for surviving the Flu, and they should establish a new more righteous society.  “Righteous” = whatever the Prophet wants, of course.  The Traveling Symphony, which performs classical music and Shakespeare for the surrounding towns (because “Survival is Insufficient”), gets on the Prophet’s bad side and some members get kidnapped before they can reach safety at the Severn City airport.

The post-apocalyptic story is tied to events just before and many years before the collapse via Arthur Leander, a Hollywood star with 3 ex-wives (great tabloid material), and a comic book, “Station Eleven,” created by his first wife.  Kirsten is a girl in the play King Lear with Arthur just before his dies on stage right before the outbreak of the Flu; she later joins the Traveling Symphony.

Some random thoughts:

  • The wonders of the world that people miss most, or that most awe youngsters born after the collapse, are instantaneous global transportation and communication
  • There’s quite a bit of irony in the story.  Post-collapse life is acutally better for Jeevan (a former paparazzo stalker of Arthur) and probably Kirsten as well (it is alluded that she would have become a Hollywood star, destined for the same sorrow and disappointment as Arthur, Miranda, Elizabeth)
  • A disease so deadly as that depicted in the story (first exposure to death in 48 hours) seems very unlikely to me.  Viruses and such which kill their hosts would die out before death rates approach the 80% or 90% like in the book.  (Although to be fair, I’m not sure what portion of the 99.9% dead were slain by the Flu and which died in the aftermath of collapse.)



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