Station Eleven. Taken from a Star Trek episode, they are painted on the lead wagon for the Traveling Symphony and Shakespeare Company. This motley group of actors and musicians roams the area around the Great Lakes, entertaining at various settlements, twenty years after a flu pandemic has killed 99% of the world’s population.
Arthur, the novel’s central character, is a famous Shakespearian actor who dies on stage within the first pages of the book, just before the flu panic begins. Using the memories and experiences of various characters, the author then jumps back and forth in time telling us Arthur’s story and the stories of those we unexpectedly find are connected to him. Also tying the individuals together is a pair of treasured graphic novels from which the title is taken. “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.” says Dr. Eleven, a physicist who lives on a space station after escaping an alien takeover of Earth.
Gone from the post-pandemic world are electric lights, air conditioning blowing from a vent, and computer screens lighting up the night. There is no more internet or social media, telephone service, airplane flights, or even cars. Borders and separate countries no longer matter.
What’s different about this post-apocalyptic novel is that the world the author has created seems completely believable. In a way, that makes it more frightening. Could this really happen to us soon? But in a way, the book was comforting. It’s not about survival as much as what makes survival worthwhile: connections, art and culture, memories, and hope for a better future.
If you never thought you’d be interested in this genre, Station Eleven may be the book to change your mind. Or, if you are ready to move on from the popular action-packed post-apocalyptic stories in which survival is the central theme, try traveling along with the caravan and take “survival is insufficient” as your motto.