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Stop Making Sense

I read anything that's nailed down, or even just moving slowly. Cereal boxes, candy wrappers, all genres, etc., and I don't always have much time for arbitrary distinctions like literary fiction vs. genre fiction.

Survival Is Insufficient

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

If there was ever an illustration of "Science fiction is the setting, not the story," this is it. I'd put Station Eleven up against an Annie Proulx any day of the week. A litfic postapocalyptic novel, is what it is.


"Survival is insufficient." That's what one of the characters has tattooed on her arm, and it's the motto of a traveling symphony/performing company that wanders the wasteland after a disaster. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Our story opens as Arthur, a veteran actor playing King Lear in Toronto, has a heart attack onstage. Little do the rest of the people realize that they have only days left to live themselves, because the extremely deadly Georgia Flu is already on the loose. But Arthur has one more role to play--he turns out to be the common denominator for the characters who do survive.


This isn't a book about how a disaster unfolds, really. It's about adaptation, overcoming despair, hope, and the need for art and beauty in dark times. Through the various plot lines, we see people doing the best they can to create meaning and community--for better or worse.


--Using Toronto as Ground Zero, rather than the cliched NYC or LA.
--The language is beautiful, haunting, and evocative.


--There ARE diseases that can kill as quickly as the Georgia Flu, but they're vanishingly rare, especially in cold climates like Canada's. This is a minor nitpick, though--the biology isn't the point of the story.


This is a gorgeous book. Come for the disaster; stay for the mastery in storytelling.