In the not-too-distant future, Arthur Leander, a famous actor, suddenly collapses and dies on a Toronto stage in the final act of King Lear.. That same night the deadly and highly contagious Georgian Flu reaches North America from Russia. Within days, civilization, as we know it, collapses: no electricity, no gasoline, no water, no travel, no Internet, no information, no medicine, and no escape. A handful of survivors hide in their separate lairs, until their resources are depleted and then they flee on foot, at first alone, stealing and foraging for food, trusting no one, and learning to kill. Surviving. The story takes place in Year 20 after the collapse with frequent visits to the past. 

Without realizing it, the protagonists are all connected to Arthur– his ex-wives, young son, best friend, a child actor, the paramedic who tried to resuscitate him at the theatre. Older people remember and mourn the “before time” and its marvels that are lost, perhaps forever. In oppressive heat, a troupe of musicians and actors, called the Traveling Symphony, moves from place-to-place around the Great Lakes, performing music and Shakespeare’s plays because “survival is insufficient.” Usually, they bring pleasure and diversion. But they must take care, as some villages are led by cult-like prophets, intent on control by theft, rape, and murder. Only at the end do they reach Severn City, where a fledging community has created a semblance of peace and respect in an abandoned airport with a museum devoted to all that is lost.


The novel is a dystopian vision that unfolds on a background of the unpublished graphic novel of Arthur’s first wife Miranda, who, like him, had grown upon a sparsely populated island off Vancouver. In her sketches and writing, Miranda created a post-apocalyptic community dwelling on Station Eleven, a satellite in remote space, covered in water, islands and bridges. Miranda’s fictional characters survive, confronting terrifying threats and longing for home. Fragments of her graphic work keep resurfacing throughout the novel.

Published before COVID-19 (but after SARS), the novel contains all the horrors of the early weeks of the recent pandemic and far more. Like a host of other dystopian novels from Huxley and Orwell, to Atwood and beyond, Station Eleven raises questions about basic human nature--fear, greed, cruelty, and decency–and about the fragility of our world and the technologies on which we depend. It also reminds us that as terrible as COVID-19 has been, it could have been much, much worse—and that, perhaps, the next pandemic will indeed bring about the collapse of our civilization.  



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