Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

urk. another book by someone who thinks that if they slap a coat of sf paint onto a rickety litrachaa frame, they’ll–voila! be Margaret Atwood.


so we have a pandemic that wipes out 99% of all humans. which strikes me as unrealistic–i mean, even with the 1918 flu pandemic, while certain age groups proved disproportionately mortal, even among those populations, some survived. and there were uncountable numbers who probably got the flu but never exhibited any serious symptoms. so lots of people got the flu, around 10-20% died (or fewer, depending on your source), and everybody else trundled on. and this is the worst pandemic in recorded history.

so… 99%? extremely unlikely.

but i love a good pandemic tale, so i read on.

the story is structured in a sort of compressed Cloud Atlas scaffolding: beginning with the death of an actor, and spinning out to many of those connected to him. so we get two timeframes: before the plague, and after, with stories of individual characters in rotation. but wait a minute… plagues have a way of recurring. the 1918 flu came around for a few years in cycles, becoming significantly less deadly each cycle. so did the Black Plague. in this story, nobody who survived the first round got sick in later rounds, because… there were no later rounds.

this rather slapdash understanding of pandemics is starting to get on my nerves.

anyway, of course everything collapses after the death of the 99%. no more electricity, no planes, no cell phones, no oranges. which could be fun, except that this book natters on in a faux-literary way a lot about everybody’s lives before the pandemic. it’s the usual round of divorces, foiled ambitions, career ladders climbed, etc etc. is it possible to stress how completely uninteresting most of this pre-calamity character exploration is? the author never manages to make any of these people sympathetic. plus, people show up and then disappear as the plot requires, and are never referred to again (see: our friendly doc who warns the EMT-wanna-be, in the midst of a screaming emergency [repeatedly], that the shit’s hitting the fan big time).

and wouldn’t an EMT, particularly one who has just discovered that EMT-ing is really his life’s calling, want to help? but no. he just holes up with his brother instead.

anyway. all the interesting stuff is supposed to happen after the pandemic, right?

and here the author did get a few interesting things going. our main focus, post-pandemic, is on a troupe of actor/musicians who travel (via a stripped-down pair of trucks pulled by horses) from town to town giving performances. and i really like this idea–so many post-apocalyptic tales examine military folk, or survivalists, or similarly well-armed and hostile types. so a bunch of actors roaming around is refreshing.

and i liked it very much that she refers to so many by their job titles–sixth guitar, third clarinet. it injects a little weird fun into the shattered human landscape.

but then! oh. then.

the Prophet arrives.

and suddenly we have a very dull tale of a religious nutcase who takes over towns and spouts the most cliche possible justifications for his cruelty. snoooooooze….

literally, snooze. i was listening to these parts while falling asleep, and got pissed off even on the border to dreamland that the damned Prophet had to be so fucking cliche.

now, i am not a religious person. don’t believe in god. but even i can see that the various churches have occasionally done good, not evil. churches have been known, when convenient (ok yes that is a snarky snarly comment there, but i had a flash of the Catholic church in Rwanda, which turned away Tutsis rather than shelter them from massacre)–dammit! back to the subject. churches have done good–they have aided the sick, sometimes the poor, and Jesus was one rockin’ dude, if you listen to what he said. but why oh why is it that in dystopian novels, there’s always an evil prophet? puhleeze. can’t we ever have just one guy who’s a power-hungry asshole just because he enjoys it?

so the end of the novel dissolves like toilet paper in a rainstorm into cliche and–joy! the hope of a better (i.e. similar to the present) future. snore.

just why do people imagine that the future would be good if it were like the present? i think we have a LOT of room for improvement, personally.

oh, and all the mcguffins. eyeroll. anyway. grrrr. annoyed.