Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

This book was generally classified as science fiction, which is probably why it took me so long from buying it to reading it. I like science fiction but only from time to time, I guess I’m not the technology type, but I do like sci-fi that probes the big questions: what makes us human, how we affect the world etc.

Finally I got to this one and I must say I really enjoyed it, it still makes me think. The story starts with the outburst of highly contagious deadly flu, with extremely short incubation period, something like pimped-up Spanish flu. Within days all air travel stops to contain the virus, but the damage is already done worldwide. From then on civilisation as we know it is effectively over. 80-90% of the population dies, people run from the cities, but without any specific goal, people run from people most of all. The storyline jumps between the outbreak and tracking some of the survivors in year 20 (yes, calendars were also reset) as well as telling their interconnected stories from before the outbreak.

The story is interesting, but what I found most fascinating is how differently the new world is perceived by people who were grown up before the outbreak and people born after it. How people cling to the past that they cannot recover, how they teach kids about airplanes that haven’t flown for 20 years. How can we explain internet to someone who has never seen it?  Is it even worth doing? What is the point of telling kids about antibiotics if they are not available and there is no laboratory able to produce them? Should superficial knowledge about how technology worked be passed down if all scientists with in-depth knowledge are dead? Or maybe all this should be let go and a new world build with what’s available?

Another interesting aspect was how people on one hand create communities and organize themselves even if just to avoid thinking about the fact that the world as they know it is over and on the other how where there is no immediate leader or leading group things become violent and survival of the fittest rules.

The characters are interesting, their interlinked stories adding depth; we can see how they all try to make sense of what happened. Sometimes the story happening in year 20 seems a bit far-fetched, but I think its main purpose is to show us the world 20 years on, when there’s no more fuel, no electricity for years, but there’s still human kindness and human cruelty. It was a very human sci-fi, asking the big questions and definitely making me think. I am not a panicky type, but let’s be honest pandemic scenario is not so improbable with how small the world now is. That was another thing that happened after the outbreak – the world got huge again, no planes, no ships, no internet, no phones and suddenly people are very far from each other, not at our fingertips.

Made me think and made me appreciate what we have, as fragile as it is.

What have you though when you read it? Scary and real? Or far-fetched?

I just picked a few quotes, so I’ll add them here:

Because survival is insufficient. – it’s not exactly from the book, but it is quoted in it. And it is insufficient…

The revelation of privacy: she can walk down the street and absolutely no one knows who she is. It’s possible that no one who didn’t grow up in a small place can understand how beautiful this is, how the anonymity of city life feels like freedom. – that’s how London felt to me when I moved here, now the anonymity is sometimes tiring.

She could call in sick to work, pack up her things, and be gone in a few hours. It is sometimes necessary to break everything. – who is with me on this one? 😉

5 thoughts on “Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

  1. angiekat

    I’m with you there! Sometimes it is necessary. Sort of happened for me with current layoff and not being in control of “breaking everything” can be a blessing too. In disguise, of course, but a blessing nonetheless. I enjoy science fiction- mainly in viewing shows/movies (recently discovered Haven on Netflix and am loving that show) but based on your review, I think I could give this one a go, Placing hold at local library now 😉


    1. You’re right even if breaking everything is out of our control it is a new beginning. I love the idea of new beginnings, not in a new year resolutions style, but having this awareness that I can always pack up my things leave and start over, having this in my mind gives me sense of freedom. I hope you’ll enjoy the book, let me know how it went!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Deepika Ramesh

    Lovely review! This sounds like an interesting read. 🙂 Thank you for sharing such profound thoughts.

    I questioned survival, existence, and revival when Chennai was flooded last month. We were all stranded for about four days, and it took about two weeks for the city to recover. I remembered this quote fred one of my most favourite books Eudora Welty’s ‘The Optimist’s Daughter’ — ‘Surviving is perhaps the strangest fantasy of all.’


  3. Pingback: Books for the Lockdown – Dystopian and Depressing –

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