There’s a scene early in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven where one of the main characters is holded up in his brother’s apartment on the Toronto shoreline. An epidemic has just wiped out ninety percent of humanity; they’ve survived that through stocking up on essentials and making like mice for weeks on end. Now supplies are running out. His brother is disabled, so rather than be a burden as they travel the quiet post-apolyptic dystopia outside, does the honourable thing and offs himself.
Perhaps I’m needlessly grumpy today, but fuck the hell right off.
I read this a few weeks ago now, it was part of a small pile of necessary fiction to break up the very heavy non-fiction reading. I’m not sure where I heard about Station Eleven, but it seemed a lot of people were talking about it. Yeah, it was kinda disappointing and contrived. A great many ideas and narrative lines that went nowhere, an awful number of improbable relationships between characters spanning decades that didn’t add anything of significance. She could have written a whole book about the travelling theatre and orchestra group as decades passed and civilisation began to return, and that would have been well tasty. She didn’t. It’s not.
(I imagine an alternate reality where a different, better Emily St. John Mandel wrote Station Eleven. In this, the main character offs himself because he thinks he’ll have to do everything in order for his brother to survive. The brother, ex-military, pissed at his sibling’s typical selfishness goes off into the wilds of Ontario, joins the travelling theatre, falls in love with a hot bear, and lives ’til old age as head mechanist and general ‘fix anything with a length of number-8’ indispensable person.)
In the renewed fight against SARS, the propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution have been put to good use. Maybe something is lost in the translation, perhaps the writer didn’t realise the significance of shouting “Spray! Spray it all!” while having a group shower to scrub clean. With a bunch of army boys. And a bar of soap.
Or maybe because in that picture the pump is causing a veritable geyser to seem to emanate from his proletarian crotch the writer knows all too well the joys of a group shower a dropped bar of soap and SARS is just another cardboard storyline for everyone getting their gear off in People’s Liberation Army Anal Gang-Bang Volume 6: The SARS years
Read from left to right, top to bottom.
1. Comrades! Bad News! SARS is here!
2: How could this happen? What can we do? 3. What’s to fear? I’ve got a gun!
4. Won’t work! The enemy is crafty. Guns won’t work! (other guy) Hey, what about grenades?
5. No go! SARS is only afraid of disinfectant! 6. But we’ve got none!
7. Brothers, Chill! First of all, we must pay attention to hygiene to prevent SARS.
8. Right! Bathe! Wash! (other caption) Hey, where’s the soap? 9. And don’t forget to wear a mask!
10. Good thinking! I’m off to put up posters to tell everyone to wear a mask!
11. Comrades! The disinfectant is here!
12. Excellent! we’ve washed so much, we’ve taken off a layer of skin!
13. Spray! Spray it all!
14. ‘Victory!’ ‘We have defeated SARS.’ ‘Great!, as a matter of fact, I hate washing.’ ‘No more masks, no more anti-rash powder!’ ‘Now we can eat whatever we want!
Last year we were on the train from Wuhan to Guangzhou when we got a barrage of text messages warning us to stay out of the city as there was some new mysterious illness, noone knew what was going on, rumours of people dead all over town, everyone wearing face masks, and coincidently a guy in our carriage coughing his lungs out. Turned out to be nothing serious, just another new south China virus, everything went back to normal in a couple of days excet for the stink of burning vinegar and 1/2 empty bars.
I went to Hong Kong the same day as the doctor who brought SARS to Mongkok did, and outbreaks followed me to Australia (just a rumour), Toronto, Beijing, and pretty much everywhere else.
This time, i can be certain it wasn’t me. Vice Minister of Health Zhu Qinsheng confirmed the occurence of two cases, one in Beijing, and one in Anhui. He assured a meeting of Asian health ministers that unlike last year, China had learnt denial was not an effective method of treating SARS, and he would keep the public alerted. Now how about the same attitude to HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis?
China has a dazzling record for skillful and compassionate management of health crisises. While its well-considered denial and mismanagement of SARS, slaughter of millions of poultry during Bird Flu receive plenty of media coverage, its disasterous handling and perpetuation of HIV/AIDS remains a less-popular but potentially calamitous filler of column inches.