Category Archives: Science Fiction

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station11

Yes, I read another post-apocalyptic novel where civilization goes to hell in a handbasket. But in my defense, there’s Shakespeare! And comics!

The novel begins when Arthur, a fiftyish actor who is finally old enough to play King Lear, has a heart attack onstage. A young man in the audience who is training to be an EMT tries to help, and winds up comforting a small girl involved in the production after the ambulance takes Arthur away.

On his way home, the young EMT-to-be gets a call from a friend who works in a hospital, who warns him that an epidemic has broken out and that he should hole up at home and not talk to anyone. Since he knows this friend is not normally an alarmist, he stocks up on supplies and heads to his brother’s house to wait out the scare. From here, the story is taken up by several different characters – Kirsten, the young girl who was onstage with Arthur when he had his heart attack, Miranda, Arthur’s first ex-wife, and Clark, a friend of Arthur’s. We piece together from their stories of the present, future and past how all of these characters are connected, and what happened before, during and after the flu pandemic.

This novel is beautiful. I know it should be depressing, and yes, 99 percent of the population dies in the first few chapters, but what happens in the aftermath is not as bleak as you’d expect. Civilization as it was known disappears, communications between communities is limited to what news can be gleaned from travelers, and technology more sophisticated than hand tools is no longer of any use – but somehow, the survivors survive, the world goes on, and there’s still classical music and Shakespeare being performed, so really, how bad could it be? Plus there’s a graphic novel (loosely inspired by Spaceman Spiff from Calvin and Hobbes) which inspires two of the characters – one to make art, the other to start a cult. And did I mention the museum one of the characters starts – in an airline lounge, with cell phones and other useless devices as exhibits? And best of all, all of these things are connected, even if the people involved don’t know it. I only wish that the book had pictures, because the author’s descriptions of the graphic novel’s illustrations sound incredible. (Artists – make Station 11 the comic happen. Please.)

What reads like this? Well, the post-apocalyptic elements make it sort of like Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, or Roth’s Divergent. But the writing style for some reason reminded me of Ann Patchett – maybe because the story is vaguely similar to Bel Canto, where the world has gone to hell but art keeps the survivors going?

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin

Jacket

When a coworker discovered this book he put it on hold for me without even being asked (I love having friends in high places who know what I like). A book written in the style of the X-Files by Gillian Anderson herself? Yes, please! And even though I had serious doubts it would be any good (lots of famous people try to write – most of the time, it doesn’t mean they’re any good at it), I tore into it the minute it arrived.

Turns out, it really isn’t bad. It’s the first of a proposed series called “The Earthend Saga” and while I am not quite sure where it’s going, it might be a fun ride. We open with a prologue featuring a geologist on a ship near the Falkland Islands who has discovered a bizarre artifact that may be extraterrestrial in origin. It is stolen from him by a mysterious figure, and then Part One begins. In it we meet Caitlin O’Hara, a psychiatrist who lives in New York City. She’s a single mother of a 10-year old boy, who works a a little too much but is otherwise content and successful. She gets an emergency call from her good friend Ben, a UN translator, asking her to come and treat the teenaged daughter of the UN’s Indian ambassador. The girl is having visions and trying to harm herself, and her timing is poor – the ambassador is in the middle of negotiations with Pakistan that have the whole region hovering on the brink of nuclear war. He wants someone to help his daughter before anyone finds out that she is ill, because he fears the stigma attached to mental illness may undermine his credibility as a negotiator.

Caitlin discovers that the girl is not alone in her bizarre symptoms. A young woman in Haiti almost drowned while standing on dry land. A college student in Iran lit himself on fire. The circumstances of all three young people share a few common elements, and Caitlin becomes convinced that there is a connection, and that she must find it. She races from location to location, gathering clues a la Robert Langdon in The DaVinci Code (don’t these characters ever suffer jet lag or fly commercial??) and using every trick in her psychiatric bag to string them together into a coherent explanation for her client’s symptoms.

In subsequent Parts we revisit the mysterious figure from the prologue, and learn of “The Group”, the secret organization he works for. What exactly do they do? Why are they searching for the artifacts that they are, and what connection do these artifacts have to the bizarre behavior of animals and young people worldwide? Was there really a lost civilization in Antarctica? If so, what happened to it?

We find out the answers to some of these questions, but not all of them. I’m assuming we’ll have to read more of the series to make all of the connections. The book was engaging – more for the characters and the settings than the actual plot, but who cares – and I think the series will be worth reading to satisfy my need for a little X-Filesian weirdness in a post-X-Files world. As for read-alikes, if you liked Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code and its sequels, or Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred With Their Bones, this is the same sort of race-around-the-world-putting-pieces-together-before -something-bad-happens sort of romp. Also, the co-author Jeff Rovin writes titles in the Op-Center series started by Tom Clancy, so while I’ve never read any Clancy, this might be similar enough to please a Clancy fan.

 

The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

silvers

All in all, a pleasing sci-fi romp. I had a few quibbles with some elements of the story (mainly hints that seem like they might lead somewhere, but don’t – but then I learned that this is planned as a series, so I am hoping they get worked into later installments) but it was a good vacation read, with lots of action and adventure. The basic premise: When they are children, Hannah and Amanda Given are rescued from certain death when a trio of odd beings freezes time to pull them and their parents from a car accident. Many years later, these same beings return to save Hannah and Amanda again when the world (our world, anyway) ends. Hannah and Amanda, along with an assortment of others (dubbed the Silvers, because of the silver bracelets their saviors marked them with), are brought to an alternate timeline where earth wasn’t destroyed – one whose history diverged from ours in…I forget what year exactly and I turned the book back in already, so I can’t check. 1912? 1913? Somewhere in there. Anyway, in their new timeline, things are different – America suffered a cataclysmic event sometime in the early 1900s, and became more isolationist and insular. This affected the country in subtle ways, as did several scientific discoveries about the nature of time that resulted from the event. The Silvers have to learn about these differences in a hurry so that they can cope with their new environment.

Can their saviors be trusted? It doesn’t look like it – but can the man they have chosen to trust instead be trusted? Who are the mysterious physicists who are studying them? Are there others like them in different cities? Why have they all developed such incredible powers? Can they trust the messages they receive periodically from their future selves? Can they trust each other? And why do random people keep trying to kill them? Read on, dear reader, and…well, some of your questions will be answered. I’m counting on the sequels to answer the rest.

Read-alikes: Hmmm, what reads like this? It’s kind of like an X-Men movie more than anything else. Throw in some Smallville meteor freaks, maybe, and add a dash of any Star Trek episode involving alternate timelines and that “OH MY GOD WHAT IF WE PICK THE WRONG ONE OR CHANGE SOMETHING?!?” vibe. I guess it reads most like a Robert Heinlein novel, where the people are recognizable as pretty much like us but the world they live in has altered. If you like books where random people are thrown together and forge bonds as they struggle against a common foe, you’ll probably enjoy it.