Recently I asked Lowe about what she was reading. Her reply:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelVisit Helen Lowe's website. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also on Twitter.
Station Eleven pursues two distinct, but not entirely disconnected, storylines: between the immediate future and a period twenty years later when a ’flu virus has wiped out 99% of the world’s population. The story follows six central characters in either time period, but in the post-pandemic future the narrative focuses on a band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony, who perform concerts and Shakespeare’s plays to scattered, remnant settlements.
As post-apocalyptic fiction, Station Eleven makes a reasonable fist of exploring what a world without electricity and mass transport—but possibly far more critically, modern medicine and public health engineering—could “look” like. More importantly, though, it is a book about people and the connections, sometimes curious and often fragile, that bind us together. Station Eleven traverses the emotional experience of survival, rather than the physical, examining what a statement like “Survival Is Insufficient” (the Star Trek-derived tagline of the Travelling Symphony) can mean for both individuals and society. As the story moves between present and future, pre- and post-apocalypse, the elements that make existence sufficient are explored in the context of both experiences—and that’s a big part of what makes this book so interesting.
Beyond that, I love the whole idea of the Travelling Symphony. And the way people and events in the book are connected, not least by “Station Eleven” itself—but not necessarily in a direct, or even tangential “cause and effect” way. (To illustrate what I mean, the most directly comparable storytelling I can think of is the 2004 film Crash.)
I also really like that Station Eleven is, despite the post-apocalyptic premise, essentially a hopeful book.
The Page 69 Test: Daughter of Blood.