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Literature / Station Eleven

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Survival is Insufficient

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel written by Emily St. John Mandel and published in 2014. In the novel, a pandemic known as the "Georgia Flu" wipes out somewhere north of 99% of human life on Earth, ending civilization as we know it. Twenty years later, a band of survivors known as the "Traveling Symphony" have come together to preserve what remains of the world's music and theater, and perform it in towns that have begun to resettle the Midwestern American landscape.

Kirsten Raymonde was eight years old when she landed her first theatrical role in a Toronto performance of King Lear, starring famed actor Arthur Leander in the titular role. The night the Georgia Flu arrived in the city, Arthur died of a sudden heart attack while onstage. Kirsten survived the deadly disease, wandering throughout what was once Michigan for some time before joining the Traveling Symphony at fifteen, inspired by her memories of Arthur.


Twenty years after the pandemic, several of her fellow actors and musicians from the Traveling Symphony disappear near the town of St. Deborah by the Water, where a violent, mysterious prophet and his followers have set up camp in the two years since the Symphony last passed through. In an attempt to find and rescue her friends, who Kirsten believes may have fled to a mysterious "Museum of Civilization", Kirsten is separated from the Symphony, and must survive the wilderness and the new cultists in order to save her friends and herself.

The novel also uses flashbacks to describe life before the pandemic, detailing the lives of those close to Arthur Leander. Particular attention is given to Arthur's first wife Miranda, the author of a graphic novel series called "Station Eleven" (which has found its way into Kirsten's hands so many years later); Clark, Arthur's oldest friend; and Jeevan, a paparazzo-turned-paramedic who faces his own struggle to survive and find fulfillment in a radically changed world.


Station Eleven has won several awards, and is both a National Book Award finalist and a Pen/Faulker Award finalist.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Kirsten and the conductor.
  • After the End
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: How the prophet gets his wives.
  • Anyone Can Die: Well, 99% of the human race dies in the Georgia Flu pandemic. And even 20 years afterwards, characters can die suddenly and terribly.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2. As far as the characters know, the whole world has reverted to a pre-industrial state.
  • Arc Symbol: Airplanes.
  • Arranged Marriage: The prophet takes a new bride whenever he enters a new town.
  • Bury Your Disabled: The paraplegic Frank commits suicide rather than live in another war-zone; a mentally-ill woman who can't access her medication wanders out into the forest to die, but it's not clear if she deliberately committed suicide or if it was side effects from withdrawal.
  • Connected All Along: The Prophet is Arthur's son.
  • Creepy Child: Arthur's son Tyler. Eleanor also comes off as this at first.
  • Cultured Badass: Kirsten, the conductor, and most other members of the Symphony. Even the fifteen-year-old knows how to handle a gun.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Jeevan's son, Frank, is named after his dead brother.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Kirsten and her friend August specialize in this.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": A number of characters are known solely by their function. The conductor of the Traveling Symphony prefers to be called "the conductor." One of the viola players changes her name to "Viola." The prophet abandons his given name.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Survivors tattoo a knife on their forearm whenever they've murdered anyone. A major plot point is that it's nearly impossible to live your whole life in the post-pandemic world without killing.
  • Family of Choice: Not a happy version. Most people - including Jevaan, Kirsten, and Clark - have lost their whole families. Jevaan remarries, Clark forms a genuinely safe community in the airport, and Kirsten joins the Travelling Symphony, but all of them remain marked by their losses.
  • Fatal Method Acting: Arthur Leander dies onstage during a performance of "King Lear."
  • For Want of a Nail: Common, but one example would be the death of Kirsten's brother, Peter, who dies after stepping on a literal nail and some deaths in the airport. He doubles as a Hero of Another Story for how much he protects Kirsten from.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The prophet's youngest recruit shoots him before he can kill Kirsten.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • Jevaan's brother, Frank, who is paralyzed while a journalist in the Middle East, and who commits suicide days into the outbreak.
    • Kirsten's brother, Peter, who is The Ghost and protects her in the first year she can't remember, and dies before the story starts.
    • Jevaan's wife and her people, who are co-workers who were on a field trip during the outbreak.
  • Knight Templar: The prophet and his followers, who all believe they were spared from the pandemic because they were chosen by God for some greater purpose. They often kill or exile villagers who refuse to be assimilated into their cult.
  • Light Is Not Good: The prophet has blond hair and refers to himself and his followers as 'the light'. He also tries to force a twelve-year-old into marriage.
  • May–December Romance: Arthur is twelve years older than Miranda.
  • Mundane Object Amazement: The displays in the Museum of Civilization include credit cards, cell phones, stiletto heels, engine blocks, a motorcycle, and newspapers.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The effects of the Georgia Flu are only vaguely described, other than that it has a very short incubation period and kills very efficiently.
    • It's also stated that riots and gang violence are why Kirsten, Jeevan, and others had to abandon Toronto, but this is never shown in the actual novel.
    • Clarke remembers that the first year in the airport was horrible, but it's never shown nor specified what happened.
    • The hospitals get overrun but it's never shown, and only heard through one oblique phone call with one of Jaaven's friends.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The airplanes full of corpses, who were locked inside after some passengers showed symptoms on the flight. Although, as Clarke notes, that's no guarantee that everybody died of the Georgia Flu, which leaves the distinct possibility that some people were alive in there for days or even weeks.
  • The Plague: The Georgia Flu. Anyone who catches it dies in days.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Kirsten and August.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: The prophet has a dog named Luli.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Mostly all justified examples -
    • One of the men Kirsten killed is implied to have tried to rape her.
    • The villain, the Prophet, marries children and takes them as his "wives".
    • Clarke and some of the other people at the airport
  • Reality Ensues: One of the main impetuses of the plot. The vast majority of human civilisation dies...and, as a result, nobody can access medicine or other necessary implements. For example, a woman commits suicide because she doesn't have enough of her antidepressants.
  • Repressed Memories: Kirsten remembers nothing from the year after the collapse.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Where did the Georgia Flu come from? It's first reported in Georgia, but none of the characters know anything about how it started.
    • Why didn't any of the people stuck at the airport get sick, when all of the other airplanes were locked up specifically because there were infected people on them?
  • The Runaway: Twelve-year-old Eleanor stows away with the Symphony to avoid being married to the prophet.
  • Stealth Expert: The members of the prophet's cult specialize in this. They capture several members of the Symphony so quickly and silently that others mere feet away don't see it happen.
  • "Stuck at the Airport" Plot: Taken Up to Eleven. During the first outbreak of Georgia Flu, Clark boards a plane that is redirected to the Severn City Airport due to the pandemic. The passengers are then stranded there for the next two decades. Seeing as 99% of the population has died, and the world has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it's not like they have anywhere else to go.
  • Wham Line: Several, including:
    Of all of them at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three days later on the road out of the city.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out how Elizabeth, Arthur's second wife, died (or even if she did for sure), but this is justified because in the post-pandemic world, death is cheap. Plot-relevant in the case of Kirsten's parents and Jevaan's girlfriend, Laura; all they know about them is that they went into Toronto during the workday and never came back. They might have gotten ill or been killed in the descent into madness.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Several chapters are composed entirely of flashbacks, jumping back and forth between the pre-pandemic lives of Miranda, Jeevan, and others, as well as the exploits of the Traveling Symphony before their arrival in St. Deborah at the Water.
  • Wild Child: A common fate for survivors. Kirsten is an example.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Arthur cheated on Miranda with Elizabeth.

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