Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
2 stars - another book with a lot of hype
ALR Green - a couple of dogs make brief appearances

Wow. The second book I've read recently that received lots of favorable reviews, but was a total disappointment.

Station Eleven tells the story of the world both before and after an outbreak of flu that wipes out 99% of the population. 

Here's what went wrong:

  1. Pacing. The author pops back and forth between pre and post pandemic. That's OK. But she spends so much time in one place or the other that the reader is prone to losing track of (and enthusiasm for) the parts of the story left dangling. As a result, each return to a different time feels a bit like the first episode of the new season of a favorite TV show (as in, "who is that again?" "what happened to him?"). To compensate, we get a sort of "previously on" recap. The result of this is that some plot devices are hammered home so many times they elicited eye rolls and sighs from this reader.
  2. Nothing new here. Really. Nothing. People wander around, some people are bad guys, some are good, some have regrets, some not, there's a religious prophet up to no good (surprise). Ho hum.
  3. Boring, flat characters. Every one of them. Seriously. 
  4. Another "tell all" style of writing. No mystery, no curiosity, just "here you go, here's what happened." 
  5. Key plot moments are described in such a bland style that one wonders what all the fuss was about.
  6. Nothing to think about. I wasn't left pondering my life, the future, or anything (other than, perhaps, feeling somewhat cheated by the previously reliable NPR book review site).

Now a bit of nitpicking. 

The flu conveniently kills infected people in 48 hours. This avoids having to talk about difficult decisions of whether to leave loved ones behind, masking symptoms, etc.

Early on in the book (and now I'm getting very fussy), somebody uses a bicycle to generate enough power to boot up a laptop. The error message when it tries to connect to the Internet is "This webpage is not available." Now what browser could they possibly be using? On all my browsers, that message means you ARE connected to the Internet (hooray), but the site you're going to is down. So which is it?

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