When it comes to Science Fiction and post apocalyptic books I tend to get turned off when the story focuses too much on world building. Yes, means of communication and transportation and societal structure should be discussed but so many stories get bogged down in the detail of the world building that they forget to build a connection with the characters. If the world building was completely missing I’d be disappointed but I become uninterested when I fail to see how the characters are living and feeling in the world that’s built. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel does an excellent job of character building. Instead setting the characters into a built world, she displays the world around her characters and we get to see it through their eyes and experiences. It made for a fascinating and very enjoyable read.
Station Eleven jumps back and forth between pre and post (20 years post) pandemic; letting us get to know some of the characters in both environments. The pre pandemic narrative follows, for the most part, a famous actor, Arthur Leander, who dies the during a production of King Lear in Toronto on the night the pandemic hits the city. This is the first scene of the book and what follows is a fascinating example of the what people mean when they realize two people they know know each other and say, “Small world!” To be fair the post pandemic world is about one percent of the pre pandemic world so, comparatively, it is indeed a small world.
Mostly what I like about the seeing characters on both sides of tragedy is we aren’t relying on their post tragedy selves to give us an accurate description of who they used to be. We hear what they miss, some of what they remember, what they wish had been different, but then we also get to see them in the world they remember, not as they remember it, but as it was. Seeing the difference in people, their mentalities, and choices lent itself to seeing the scope of the pandemic. The day to day reality that it imposed on the survivors was so vastly different from the life they lived before, and yet they continue to survive. It makes them all once more admirable and more tragic. Perhaps tragedy and admiration go hand in hand more than I previously thought.
What really made my creative, arts loving heart beam with joy was that in the post pandemic world we’re primarily following the story line of Kirsten Raymond, who is a part of the Traveling Symphony. It’s a Symphony and theatre troupe that travel from settlement to settlement providing entertainment and art. The Traveling Symphony’s motto and Kirsten’s favorite quote is “Because survival is insufficient.” (Holla at ya Star Trek fans!) which was fascinating to me because while this was displayed and discussed it sometimes felt that it was only minimally a part of the book. It is easy in the tougher times of this narrative to begin to believe that survival will have to suffice because there are moments when it seems barely attainable. Though, I suppose that is the point. Despite and because of hardships the arts will always be a necessary, important, and influential aspect of being.