The Sick List

On the evening of December 30, I got sick. I mean sick. I felt cold regardless of the house temperature and had the worst set of shakes I can recall in quite some time.

Except for a brief attempt to go to work on the 31st (I lasted four hours) I have spent the time since then bundled in bed or in a chair in the living room. Watching some junk on Netflix and reading.

Mostly reading.

(As you may know from a previous post, I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction.)

At some point, I saw a list of the “Best SF in 2014,” something like that, and since I had had very good luck with some of the books on that list (notably The Martian, which is already, as I understand it, being made into a film). Two books on the list struck me, and I downloaded them via Kindle.

The first, and in my opinion, the better, was Station Eleven. I probably shouldn’t have been reading this while I was sick. Imagine a flu. A bad flu. A flu that kills almost all of its victims within 24 hours. Imagine that the survival rate is something like .01%.

That, a comic book, and a Canadian production of King Lear, are the setup. The next 20 years are the story.

Don’t read it because it’s SF. Read it because the writing is amazing. It’s the kind of writing that could sustain nearly any kind of fiction, not the kind that SF readers are used to, where the writing takes second place to the technology. And forget about technology; this is classed as science fiction only because it roams in a speculative future. There is no technology. The break between future and past is the pandemic, and after that…

One of the most striking features of the book is the way it makes it plausible that there might be a disaster with no rescue, no national guard helicopters, nobody coming to save the victims.

The second book is a series, and kind of odd. It’s known as the Southern Reach trilogy, and I’m about 40% of the way through the last volume. The writing here is good—not as good, but good—but very different from that in Station Eleven. I would use the term “diffident.” The novels (collectively the “Novel”—damned if I ain’t a lawyer) tell the story of something called Area X. Area X is located somewhere along the southern East Coast (it’s implied that it’s the East Coast of the United States, but that’s never made clear). Something has happened there—but it’s not at all clear what. And whatever has happened is enmeshed with the politics of the Southern Reach, the agency designated with containing Area X, and with the nation’s intelligence apparatus.

It’s a strange but engaging book.  The Novel pulls you in spite of the fact that you might find it off-putting. The second novel in particular has a kind of Vonnegut-tinged black humor running through.

So, Station Eleven and Southern Reach. I’d recommend the former over the latter—unless you think you might be coming down with something.

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