06 September 2015

Get Your Read On: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is a good book.

Consider reading it if you are looking for something good to read. (You can borrow my copy.)

Science fiction critics distinguish between 'hard' and 'soft' science fiction. (That these words are also used to describe pornography is probably not a coincidence.) These constructs are only useful when trying to assign arbitrary categories to objects so that we can organize them in our minds and conversations. In the grand scheme of literature they are useless except to marginalize certain types of fiction as more (plain fiction) or less intellectual (horror, science fiction, fantasy) than others. It's a lot of bullshit, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, hard science fiction roots the story in science; the science elements are an essential plot device. The Martian by Andy Weir is the most successful hard science fiction novel in recent memory. (That is a superb book, btw.)

Soft science fiction does not dwell overmuch on the science itself and instead focuses on other story elements. It is part of the story but drives the plot indirectly. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is an example of this latter type. It is very obviously a classic type of science fiction story but Ishiguro resisted categorizing it as such (see second paragraph above for reasons), and when it came out some reviewers bought into the idea that it was 'difficult to categorize' and 'ethereal', to which I say: no, and yes. It was 'difficult to categorize' because if you want to be a Serious Literary Novelist and win Serious Literary Awards then you do not write science fiction. Even if you write a book about a dystopian recent past where people are being cloned, raised to adulthood and then used/farmed as donors. It is a powerful, disturbing, challenging book.

Station Eleven is a soft science fiction novel* that jumps back and forth in time to tell two converging stories in parallel. It is wonderfully constructed and very well told. Highly recommended.

* 'Post-apocalypse', because we have enough of these now that they get their own category. You have The Road if you want to go highbrow, The Stand if you want to aim at the mass market, and Left Behind if you have terrible taste and/or are brain-dead, plus too many others to list.

No comments: