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Mandel, Emily St John

Entry updated 5 December 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1979-    ) Canadian-born journalist and author, in the US from early adulthood, of sf interest for her fourth novel, Station Eleven (2014), in which the sudden death on stage of an actor performing William Shakespeare's King Lear (performed circa 1605) precipitates (or marks) the onslaught of a deadly Pandemic (see Disaster); a young girl, also on stage, survives to become the central protagonist two decades later in a Ruined Earth tale where, perhaps not very plausibly, the tiny surviving populations, clustered in small communities, have already begun to create viable patterns of cultural interchanges and commerce (see Mainstream Writers of SF). The young protagonist, now grown, has become part of a travelling theatre whose visits to succeeding exemplary settlements (see Archipelago; Fantastic Voyage) helps knit the world back together: for shared stories make civilization. This use of the topos of the microcosm-that-creates-the-macrocosm travelling theatre (which perhaps unsafely asserts the redemptive value of staged story as Meme) may seem to reflect a very similar set of events in Anne Washburn's Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play (performed 2012; 2013), but both works are likely to have been conceived at more or less the same time. There is little trauma in evidence in Station Eleven; the plotting is adroitly thick, though its focus on the young girl now grown, and upon her personal concerns, tends to muffle the consequences of the loss of 99% of her fellow human beings a few decades earlier. Station Eleven won the Arthur C Clarke Award. The tale was adapted for Television as the 10-episode Station Eleven (2021-2022) by its writer and showrunner Patrick Somerville.

Mandel's next novel, The Glass Hotel (2020), can be understood as a sequel to Station Eleven; it is set in the present or the extremely Near Future, in New York and in the titular hotel at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, which has been designed as a luxury Keep to keep the privileged of the world in comfort as Climate Change, and the deadly virus featured in the earlier novel, are about to create planetary Disaster. The dysfunction of the American state just before lockdown is a leitmotif that suffuses the tale with premonition. Its loose sequel, Sea of Tranquility (2022), carries over some locales and a time-travelling (see Time Travel) Mysterious Stranger from the previous novel, though this link is submerged in the four-part narrative, each set at a different period, sometimes century apart. The primary setting is two centuries hence in a Moon colony, where a successful writer, whose first Pandemic novel was a surprise success, must begin to live with the emergence of a savage new virus. In the end, all four tales intersect in a manner that evokes the twinings of Time Opera. [JC]

Emily St John Mandel

born Denman Island, British Columbia: 1979

works (selected)


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