Station Eleven

Imagine that a deadly flu took out most of the world’s population and now, as a result, people are forced to live without electricity, gas, or internet, and learn live off the land to survive. This is the premise of Station Eleven, a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

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Station Eleven reminded me a lot initially of the (now sadly canceled) tv show Revolution. It’s a post-apocalyptic survival story, and the characters are traveling across the North American landscape with no electricity and no “United States”. In the novel’s case, however, the destroyed world is more of a background setting for an exploration of how humans have become disconnected from the natural world and how some interactions, moments, or choices can have an inexplicable lasting impact on someone.

The most interesting feature of the novel is how the story is told. Mandel jumps around constantly from moment to moment, and setting to setting. It feels almost carefree on her part, but you know it can’t be because it’s done in such a way that it’s not causing the reader to have to do any additional work, and everything makes sense. I don’t know how Mandel kept straight in her head what information she had and had not given away as she was writing, but she’s done a great job. You’re constantly waiting until the end to find out what happened in the future to the characters you’ve connected with in the pre-flu world and you’re wanting to know more about the origins of the people you’ve connected with in the post-flu world. It’s not a mystery novel, but as you read it feels like you’re following lots of mini-mysteries which are all these characters’ life stories and how their interactions, chance or otherwise, have profound effects on their lives.

Mandel really makes you think about how the world is structured today. We constantly hear about how much knowledge we have available to us in the information age, but we don’t often consider that just because it’s available to us, doesn’t mean we have it. All the tasks necessary to run our society are divided into separate careers. A banker probably doesn’t know how to hunt, a hunter probably doesn’t know how to generate electricity, an electrical engineer probably doesn’t know how to run a successful government, and a politician, whatever he or she may say, probably doesn’t know how to set up an efficient economy. We know we have all of this information available at our fingertips with the internet. But, if we lost that magnificent tool, the knowledge in today’s world is so subsetted that we’d probably be lost for a long time too.

Ironically, as I was reading Station Eleven, I kept coming across an ad on TV by America’s Natural Gas Alliance. It starts, “Someone once told me that working for the power company is a noble calling. I believe that it is. People don’t have to think about where their electricity comes from. They flipped a switch, and the light comes on. It’s our job to make sure that it does.” Obviously this type of system has helped our world develop much more quickly than if everyone tried to be knowledgeable about everything – there’s only so much information a human brain can hold. Nevertheless, reading this book made me think that it probably couldn’t hurt to learn a little more about how I get things like running water, electricity, food, and clothing!

All in all, I’d give this book 8/10 stars. It’s narrative is a little choppy (unexpectedly picks up and slows down through the book) but the style is unique and does work. The characters aren’t ones that will stick with you forever but their stories are engaging and will probably make you think about the interactions you have in your own life. Finally, if you, like me, are interested in the post-apocalyptic genre but can’t stand to read another book revolving around a sordid teen romance, then you should definitely check this book out!

Have you read Station Eleven or any other books by Mandel? What is your favorite post-apocalyptic or dystopian book? What do you think of the genre? Let me know in the comments below!

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Gun Violence

This post is very different from anything I’ve posted on this blog. I’m horrified by what I am seeing in the news today and felt I had to say something.

Today America was alerted to another awful mass shooting. This time it was in Roseburg, Oregon at Umpqua Community College. Yet again, many people died (10 as of this writing) and many (7) were injured. Yet again, the shooter is dead. Yet again, the President has had to make a sad statement to the press.

News of domestic mass shootings has become so common it’s not surprising. As President Obama pointed out, everything in these situations has become routine. The news channels will show the President’s speech, they’ll show that day’s live footage of the crime scene, they’ll interview some family members of past and current victims, and they’ll try to understand what mental illness causes a person to commit such atrocious acts. There will be candlelight vigils and lots of comments of sending prayers and good wishes. There will be some arguments. And in the end, inevitably it seems, no real change will be made. In a few weeks or months, we’ll roll through this news cycle again.

The President is understandably frustrated. I can’t understand the people who get news like this and still manage to stand up and argue against strict gun regulations. I can’t understand the people who are unable to recognize the heartache in the faces of the families and friends of victims on their screens. I can’t understand why, if you are seeing news like this, you would think it makes sense to make it easier for people to get guns.

Because that’s the real issue. Yes, mental health is an issue that needs to be more deeply understood and more carefully addressed. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only factor in this equation. A person with a mental illness can’t shoot up a building if they have no gun. This isn’t a question of having the right to a gun for self-protection. The shooter in Oregon today had 3 pistols and a rifle. No ordinary citizen needs access to that kind of hardware for self-defense.

I’m so angry when I hear arguments based on the Constitution. The first words of the US Constitution seek “domestic tranquility” and provision of a “common defense”. Why are we willing to put those profound ideals aside in favor of an arbitrary individual right?Regardless, even if the only words in the Constitution were “Every citizen shall own a gun”, does that mean we should stick to it? At every step in its history, America has updated its laws as times have changed. Vehicle laws, property laws, voting laws – they have all been updated to reflect the times we live in. Why can’t gun laws be updated too?

I sincerely ask the people who support less regulation – aren’t you willing to give up this right (or at least let it be more regulated) if it means saving lives? Aren’t you willing to at least try on the off-chance that it could save the life of at least one child? In this day and age you can’t even say that you don’t know the effects of the lack of policy. You see the victims on your screens all the time.

People aren’t necessarily looking for a ban on gun ownership – just some basic regulations. Don’t you want someone who owns a gun to have passed a background check? Don’t you want them to have a license? If you want to own a gun, what’s the harm in going through this besides it being a slight nuisance? If someone can’t pass a background check, why are we listening to their opinions on gun laws?

It’s just the start of election season. As it goes on, I urge everyone to think about gun regulation policy as they do the economy and foreign policy and social freedoms and health care – it’s a very real issue, with very, very real consequences.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I welcome a positive discussion in the comments below.