Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Frank lived in a glass tower on the south edge of the city, overlooking the lake. Jeevan left the park and waited awhile on the sidewalk, jumping up and down for warmth, boarded a streetcar that floated like a ship out of the night and leaned his forehead on the window as it inched along Carlton Street, back the way he had come. The storm was almost a whiteout now, the streetcar moving at a walking pace. His hands ached from compressing Arthur’s unwilling heart. The sadness of it, memories of photographing Arthur in Hollywood all those years ago. He was thinking of the little girl, Kirsten Raymonde, bright in her stage makeup; the cardiologist kneeling in his gray suit; the lines of Arthur’s face, his last words—“The wren …”—and this made him think of birds, Frank with his binoculars the few times they’d been bird-watching together, Laura’s favorite summer dress which was blue with a storm of yellow parrots, Laura, what would become of them? It was still possible that he might go home later, or that at any moment she might call and apologize. He was almost back where he’d started now, the theater closed up and darkened a few blocks to the south. The streetcar stopped just short of Yonge Street, and he saw that a car had spun out in the middle of the tracks, three people pushing while its tires spun in the snow. His phone vibrated again in his pocket, but this time it wasn’t Laura.

This was the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, my first year as a judge (my second year was this year). We had considered, but not shortlisted, the winners of the Tiptree Award (The Girl in the Road and My Real Children), the BSFA Award (Ancillary Sword) and the Nebula Award (Annihilation) but not the Hugo (The Three-Body Problem). The other shortlisted books were The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North; Memory of Water, by Emmi Itälanta; The Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey; The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber; and Europe in Autumn, by Dave Hutchinson. I liked them all, but I liked Station Eleven best.

The Clarke vow of secrecy means that I can’t say anything about the judging process, but I can, I think, share what I wrote to the other judges after first reading it. I said:

I thought this was very good – loyal to numerous post-disaster predecessors (definite Earth Abides, possibly After London, nods also to Heinlein I think) but cooking something new and very effective from the old ingredients.

I stand by that. I found it a very fresh read now, with a couple of interesting plot lines played out against a generally horrible and fascinating background, and a close examination of how the end of the world might affect you. It’s a grim story, of course, with lots of death, but it really keeps you reading, and I feel that we got it right. I still like it more than any of the other award winners of that year.

Of course the Station Eleven I read in 2015 is not the Station Eleven you will read in 2023 or 2024. It has been turned into a pretty successful TV series (which I haven’t seen), which means that the popular culture perception of the story is now on the screen rather than on the page. But rather more importantly, we have all now lived through a global pandemic, which was not quite as devastating as the one portrayed in Station Eleven, though this was not immediately apparent in March and April 2020.

I think that Station Eleven survived the pandemic better than Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book. Sometimes sf tells us about the future; more often about the present; and sometimes about the past, Station Eleven now does all three, in a way that it didn’t on first publication. You can get it here.