"Survival is Insufficient"

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?

--Chapter 4


Kirsten found herself wondering, as she always did when she saw children, if it was better or worse to have never know any world except the one after the Georgia Flu.

--Chapter 4


What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you've lost.

--Chapter 37


How does the world as we know it end? Well, in Station Eleven, it ends, not with a bang or a bomb, not with zombies or aliens; it ends with the Georgia Flu. Those exposed to it die within days. Anyone lucky enough to avoid exposure, lives. And just like that, the Earth's population is decimated. The remaining people learn to live without electricity, running water, telephones, tv, not to mention social media.


The story is told through the eyes of several characters, and flashes between the time before the Flu struck, to days during the pandemic, to 5, 10 & 20 years after the collapse. It doesn't follow a direct narrative, rather it jumps back and forth between time periods. The story focuses on a few main characters, a famous actor, several of his wives, his best friend, a man who tried to save his life, and members of the Traveling Symphony. The Traveling Symphony is a group of performers who got together some time after the collapse. They travel around to different towns and perform Shakespeare plays and give orchestral performances. On the lead caravan is printed: Because survival is insufficient. That line was taken from Star Trek: Voyager, episode 122 (for all you Trekkies out there).


Despite the jumping around in time, I didn't find the book hard to follow. It does manage to connect together characters that you didn't think would cross each other's paths. And of course, things that happen in one time directly affect a character's actions in a later time or help explain a character's earlier actions. It's a whole six-degrees of separation thing and it is done quite well.


If you like the usual post-apocalyptic novel, then this might not be the right book for you. I liked it, but I knew going in that it wasn't going to be "action packed" per se. This novel is, in my opinion, a somewhat realistic look at what could happen if there was a worldwide pandemic that killed off over three quarters of the earth's population. I will say that I was disappointed by the ending, it was rather abrupt and kind of left us dangling. I was also disappointed by the character of the Prophet. I expected him to be more of a malicious force in the story than he ended up being. I figured out who would end up being the prophet ahead of time, but it wasn't completely obvious.


I gave this book three stars because I enjoyed reading it and it is well-written. I don't know if it quite lives up to hype surrounding it, but few things ever do. I usually prefer my post-apocalyptic stories with more action and perhaps, some zombies....


Recommended to:

Adult fans of realistic stories who would like to read about the end of the world in a more plausible way.