Congratulations to Emily St. John Mandel, who has been presented with £2015 and a commemorative bookend for the honor of winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in 2014.
Station Eleven is a beautiful and page-turning take on the apocalypse via the stories of a famous pre-disaster actor and a post-disaster Shakespearian theater company who travel the ravished landscape under the motto (stolen from Star Trek, the private joke of those who still remember the show) “survival is not enough.” Many post-apocalyptic books never get past the question of whether or not survival is enough, but Station Eleven starts with the answer and moves on to more interesting things, and I—as an avid reader of post-apocalyptic literature with a light case of genre fatigue—was grateful.
It also includes the story behind a self-published comic called—wait for it—Station Eleven that affects both pre- and post-disaster narratives and that brought a satisfying self-awareness to the novel. While the post-disaster story line carries many of the elements found in post-apocalyptic literature (religious nut jobs, necessity of violence, nostalgia for the past), it brushes over them, acknowledging their presense and again, moving on to other questions.
Of course, some people didn’t like it, including Matthew Cheney, who stopped by to explain why he was maddened by this book and why he sees no place for hope and comfort in the literature of the end of the world. While I think he has a point—if you assume that literature is only meant to help us act—I disagree. And I think Station Eleven is a skillfully written addition to the post-apocalyptic genre.
Station Eleven was up against some serious competition for the Clarke Award, with Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (haven’t read it but I hear he is very good), Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water (have heard it’s good but with major race-related issues), M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts (also haven’t read, but got huge internet buzz), Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn (which From Couch to Moon loved, which is enough for me), and Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (which was fucking wonderful).
I am left with two questions.
Is Station Eleven the novel you expected to win the Clarke? And: Which Station Eleven cover do you prefer?