Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This 2014 novel won the Arthur C. Clarke Science Fiction Award as well as being a finalist for the National Book Award. The author doesn’t view the book as Sci-Fi and after reading it, I would have to agree. Just because it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by a flu pandemic doesn’t mean it is science fiction. It is more like TV’s “Last Ship” only far better!
As the novel begins, a well-known actor, Arthur Leander, playing King Lear on stage in Toronto dies of a heart attack and that same night, people start dying of he flu. The author smartly avoids the first two decades after the disaster in order to focus on what happens after the initial chaos subsides. There is no government, no electric grid, no planes, cars, cell phones or computers and the survivors are in small clusters spread throughout North America. We are introduced to a band of musicians and actors that call themselves the Traveling Symphony and do Shakespearean plays as they roam from town to town. In the band, is Kristin who is now in her twenties but was with Arthur on stage when she was eight.
Several of the key characters are connected (through Arthur) and the book goes back and forth in time and between characters to fill the gaps in on life before the flu and how the characters evolved and connected. At the beginning of the book, I found some of the skipping around a bit confusing but it was probably more because the story wasn’t going where I expected it than the structure of the novel. Station Eleven refers to a couple of sets of comic books by that title that were hand drawn by Arthur’s first wife and one set was given to Kristin the night of his death. It keeps her going through the twenty years after the pandemic.
Station Eleven is a really great book and the story parallels the tragic story of King Lear while focusing on what is important in life and how the Arts should be saved at all costs even in a society that is primitive. There are also major themes of love, loss, memories and survival. Station Eleven may take place in a post-apocalyptic world but I agree with the author that the book is literary fiction. It is well deserving of all its awards.
Pottermore Presents: 3 Short Stories
J.K. Rowling and her Pottermore organization have released three new e-books, which are short stories with very little new material. Basically the Pottermore website was reorganized and readers found content difficult to find so the archives were gone through and these e-books published for $1.99 each. There are three of these short-story books: Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide; Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies. The new material provides includes a chapter on Minerva McGonagall and another on Horace Slughorn that explores their history in a bit more depth.
The three books are short and easy to get through but again, not much new here. I guess one can’t go too wrong given the price but it would have been nice to have a little more original material. Nonetheless, in reading through the books, one can’t help but marvel at just how well developed the background story is for every character that Ms. Rowling created. Whether she included the information in her books or not, she had flushed out their entire history (and future) in her head. It truly is phenomenal and a testament to one of the most creative minds ever. My admiration is unbounded in how well though out this world and all the characters in it are.
Even if there isn’t a lot of original material in this collection of short stories, it is a great year for Potter fans with the screen play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this new e-book collection of short stories and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them movie coming in a couple of months. All of these together make for a wonderful journey to J.K. Rowling’s world that was unexpected at the time the books concluded.