Hey, I found another science fiction novel I really liked!
Station Eleven, a National Book Award finalist, is a twist on the apocalyptic pandemic tale. It’s well-crafted, full of atmosphere and immerses you in a world that has been stripped of modernity.
The novel starts with a scene of 51-year-old lead actor Arthur dying on-stage during a performance of King Lear in Toronto. During that scene, we also meet a little girl named Kirsten who figures prominently in future scenes. This also happens to be the night the Georgia flu arrives in Toronto and begins to spread rapidly (the speed of the exposure was a little farfetched). Within just a week or so, most people are dead, and modern amenities are gone – utilities, the internet, air travel, etc. Those that survive were either immune or sequestered someplace where they didn’t get exposed.
Twenty years into the future, we catch up again with Kirsten, who is now in her late twenties. Kirsten has joined up with a traveling symphony and acting troupe that perform for settlements in the western part of what had been Michigan. She only has a few memories of life before the pandemic. One of them is of witnessing Arthur die on-stage. In fact, she’s a little obsessed with Arthur and collects clippings about him from the entertainment magazines she comes across in abandoned houses. She also carries with her two unusual comic books Arthur had given her.
The author weaves a satisfying story about how Arthur and Kirsten are connected, even twenty years after Arthur’s death. We get to know Arthur, a man who has been set morally adrift by fame, through a series of flashbacks. Kirsten’s life is revealed more “real time” as she travels with her friends in the symphony and defends them from a sinister enemy led by The Prophet. Kirsten’s world is populated with mostly decent and interesting people coping with grief and struggling to survive in a world that has fundamentally changed.
And that world was fascinating to me. Some of it was poignantly beautiful – a night sky, free of light pollution, blanketed with stars. But most of it was tragic – the “husk” of a child lying in his bed in an abandoned house; an airplane that was sealed upon landing, serving as a mausoleum for its doomed passengers for twenty years. I found myself wondering – what would it take to start producing electricity again? What would it take to start manufacturing insulin and antibiotics? Do the survivors have to reach a critical mass and then go through something like the industrial revolution? How would the world get back where it was? What would that look like?
Because it made me think, I became immersed, and it was sometimes disconcerting to set the book aside and find out that I still had lights and internet access and television. THAT is the sign of a good story!
Have you read Station Eleven? What did you think? Did you like it as much as I did?