Book reviews / Science Fiction / Top picks

Book review: Station Eleven

So, I’m going to start off with a slightly annoyed tangent.

When in Toronto at the beginning of this month, we went to a bookstore. I was perusing the science fiction novels and decided I wanted something written by a woman. Nothing on the shelf jumped out (there were the usual familiar names) and so I googled ‘top science fiction women 2015’ to see if I could find something.

There was something that looked interesting – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. But alas, I couldn’t find it in science fiction. I looked some more and still didn’t see anything I wanted to buy. Walking by the computer kiosk, I had one final search. Lo and behold it was in the bookstore…but in general fiction.

Anyway, fine it was there but why wasn’t it in the science fiction section? Perhaps the bookstore or the publishers know best and figure they’ll get more sales in the general section. But it just irked me. Are more science fiction novels lurking unbeknownst to sci-fi fans in other shelves? I WILL NEVER KNOW.

So I bought the book, and it was great. The broad plot is that 99.9% of humanity has been wiped out by a type of swine flu. The plot weaves back and forth through time, through characters all linked by one person. Arthur is an aging movie star who dies on stage in the first chapter. The other characters include a child actor in the play he dies in the middle of, the man who tried to save him with CPR, his childhood best friend and his ex-wife.

It starts in Toronto and most of the plot takes place in Ontario or Michigan. We meander through what is left of the population in these places through the eyes of Jeevan (aforementioned CPR person) and Kirsten (aforementioned child actor) who is now a member of a travelling symphony/theatre troop.

The main danger is a ‘prophet’ who is your bog standard mixed up religious goon. The only problem I have with the book is with the obsession with the prophet having wives. It provides some of the tension but it is kind of annoying that being a wife would probably mean you’re getting raped. However, that is never actually mentioned in the book, I’m just inferring.

But regardless of that bog-standard annoying narrative device, the rest of the book is excellent. I love how the plot weaves in and out and similar things are used as threads to pull all the characters together. The descriptions of a post-civilised word are very interesting and relatable (in the sense that you could imagine yourself thinking the same things). There is relatively little of everyone out for themselves. There’s a lot of camaraderie and pulling together and making things work, which I like to think would happen if a massive plague wiped out most people.

None of the characters are annoying, one of the main characters is a woman. There are other women characters who have positions of authority. I think in general there is a really nice gender balance. There’s good and bad but mostly good and I like that.

By no means a happy ending (civilisation has collapsed) but there’s a hopeful hint at the end. I do recommend reading it, a solid 4/5 stars. Still not sure why it’s not sci-fi. I mean if Lucifer’s Hammer and The Road are sci-fi, so is this. Harumph.

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