Hidden Stories: World War Z, Station Eleven, and the Everyday in the Apocalypse

As I’ve been reading Station Eleven, I find that the book very much reminds me of one of my favorite “end of the world” novels, World War Z.  If you haven’t  read it, WWZ is presented as an “oral history of the zombie war”, and is set some years after the zombie apocalypse has both come and gone. The book is a collection of interviews with various figures from the zombie war, from Presidents to soldiers to astronauts to housewives turned warriors, as well as everything in between.

wikipedia.org, accessed 5/3/17

What sets both WWZ and Station Eleven apart from other apocalypse stories is their focus on the day-to-day and reality rather than any grand “saving the world” narratives. It’s angle I find fascinating, as it is often overlooked in these kinds of stories. Whenever we see a zombie movie, or read an infection/disease story, we never stop to think about anything beyond what we are shown. Yes it can be exciting to read about scientists scrambling to find some sort of cure, but how often do we stop and wonder about what happens to any astronauts stranded on the International Space Station? Or how governments and societies would undergo monumental shifts in policies? Or even how art and culture would survive and change as the years go on. There are real people hidden in the pages of every apocalypse story, and I think that often goes overlooked.

At its core, Station Eleven isn’t about saving the world or bringing things back to the way they were, there’s no “chosen one” or miracle cure. It’s just a small melancholy story, about a small melancholy group of people, doing the best they can with what they can to keep the dream of the human spirit alive. There’s something so romantically admirable about that. What other stories are out there that we have missed, that have been left out of the grand apocalypse narratives?

One Reply to “Hidden Stories: World War Z, Station Eleven, and the Everyday in the Apocalypse”

  1. I can’t agree more with this perspective. I think that stories of saving the world are very predictable and overdone. (I would love to see a story where the protagonist fails to save the world) Having said that, I love subtle and personal stories, at a lower scale. I think there are two major reasons why stories that base themselves around a smaller, more subtle plot and conflict are successful and appealing for readers.

    First, they are much more relatable. Stories like these often deal with day-to-day issues, common to us all. Their intricacy lies in the subtle nuances of the little things in life. Obstacles are also less ambitious, which is much more in parallel with our own lives. The ups and downs aren’t so drastic, and the outcome of the story and plot is usually not drastic, and in a way quiet. What I mean by that is, in a subtle story of more humble proportions, the failure or success of a character is usually witnessed by a smaller party, or maybe even nobody. And like you said, there’s something romantic and, I add, realistic about it. Our lives many times end up being anticlimactic compared to the media and narratives we’re usually exposed to, which are very extreme in their nature many times.

    Having said that, the second reason I find very important in the appeal of subtle, small stories, is their unpredictability. These stories can afford to end in many different ways, and when the climax is quiet, it can also be gray. Stories of saving the world are binary in nature, the character either saves it or doesn’t, and they usually do – so it gets kind of boring. (The failure of a hero in a world-saving scenario usually comes in the form of the loss (sacrifice) of their life, which is the trade off for the world’s return to order. Kinda like, okay the protagonist fails somehow, but the world still ends up being saved).

    In conclusion, small stories are romantic and magical, because of how anticlimactic and extreme their plot-points tend to be. And it’s okay that they are, because that’s what life is. We all like to believe that if we fail, it would be in some extraordinary fashion. And that our successes would be witnessed by the whole world, or a influence many. Chances are, your failures and successes come in much more mundane methods.

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