Recommended Reading: Station Eleven

This month, I’m highly recommending the  post-apocalyptic novel, Station Elevenby Emily St. John Mandel.

Station Eleven does something that I hadn’t thought was possible: it offers something new and exciting in the post-apocalyptic genre. I have read a lot of post-apocalyptic books, and I was getting burned out on them. It seemed like there was nothing new to say about the fall of humanity. But this novel comes forward and defies my expectations. It is a quiet, moving story, elegiac for what is lost, such as technology and modern conveniences, but still hopeful for humanity. It skips a lot of brutality that is the hallmark of post-apocalyptic fiction by jumping around in time from before the pandemic to twenty years after, eliding those first few difficult years and leaving them up to the reader’s imagination. It also omits the tedious details of survival after our global industrial web has failed us, although some details, such as the survivors setting up small communities in truck stops and airports rather than in the houses of the dead, struck me as absolutely believable. As the world has fallen back into a dark age, some of the survivors have created a traveling symphony and acting troupe, which only performs Shakespeare. They travel from settlement to settlement to bring art and music to the post-apocalyptic world, because “survival is insufficient.”

This novel is not about survival; it’s about people, particularly those invisible connections that link our lives like webs. By moving back and forth in time, following the strands of the web wherever they might go, Station Eleven gradually builds our knowing of and empathy for these people, both those who survived and those who didn’t, even the rare ones who go bad. All of the characters are linked to movie star Arthur Leander, whose death while playing King Lear opens the book, but there are even more connections, gradually revealed, that show how we all are fundamentally linked to one another. While so many post-apocalyptic books are about losing our humanity, Station Eleven is about reinforcing what makes us human, the fundamental connections that we share.

My favorite of all the characters was Miranda Carroll, Leander’s first wife, who was someone I felt I could know or even could have been, in an alternate life. Miranda is an artist who spends much of her time working on an ambitious project called Station Eleven, a comic book within a book that proves to be immune to the flu pandemic. This motif also reinforces the human connections between us, and how those connections are strengthened by the art we make. Even though this book is about much of humanity dying out, it didn’t depress me; it lifted me and inspired me.

Station Eleven is the book I’m rooting for in the 2015 Tournament of Books.

A good resource for writers…

I recommend that all writers, whether you intend to self-publish or publish traditionally, read the excellent and short reviews of self-published books that Jefferson Smith (and occasional guest reviewers) posts at Immerse or Die. Smith maintains that the most important quality of fiction is whether it enables the reader to become immersed in the story, an assertion with which I wholeheartedly agree. This is the elusive quality of suspension of disbelief, that ability to forget you’re reading about made-up places and characters, and to instead actually believe that what you’re reading could have really happened to these real people. This is why we readers want to read.

In his reviews Smith explains exactly why his immersion was broken (or less often, not broken) by the book he is reviewing. His clear and precise explanations have helped me pinpoint exactly what I disliked about the self-published books I have been reviewing. They should be very instructive to writers as what not to do.

Nothing will kill your story faster than grammatical errors and superfluous typos. Believe it!

Review of The Martian by Andy Weir…

I added a new review to my virtual libraryThe Martian by Andy Weir. Mixed reactions.

New book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Just reviewed in my virtual libraryThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. It’s an episodic novel spanning 60 years, a genre-bending page turner, about ordinary people whose fates are altered by a war between immortals. Too difficult to summarize–go read the review!

Book review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie…

Ancillary Justice CoverI posted a book review of Ann Leckie’s award-winning science fiction novel, Ancillary Justicein my virtual library. TL;DR: I loved this unique and thought-provoking space opera.

My Review of The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin on SF Mistressworks

Shannon:

My review of The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula K. Le Guin, posted on SF Mistressworks.

Originally posted on SF Mistressworks:

the-dispossessedThe Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
Review by Shannon Turlington

You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity, and your relationship to the river, and the river’s relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be at once more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of identity. You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.

Long after I closed this book for the night and lay waiting for sleep to catch up with me, I thought about what I’d read, about the ideas posed…

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My Review of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell on SF Mistressworks

Shannon:

My review of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, posted on SF Mistressworks.

Originally posted on SF Mistressworks:

The SparrowThe Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (1996)
Review by Shannon Turlington

It’s hard to describe the exhilarating sense of emotion I felt while reading this book. I don’t consider myself a religious person, and this book is unquestionably about religion and our relationship with God. I am a spiritual seeker, though, and I found this novel to be one of the most meaningful examinations of our purpose as humans that I have ever read. It is not an easy read, and it offers no easy answers. But despite its horrors – and some truly horrific things happen in this story – it is a beautiful, life-affirming read.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, because part of the joy of reading The Sparrow lies in discovering it. Russell parcels out the story in bits and pieces, to prepare the reader for what’s coming. So, just a bare-bones summary…

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