Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Talks Creative Recklessness, Time Travel and Her Favorite Sci-Fi Novels

Emily St. John Mandel outside her office in Echo Park, Los Angeles, California on March 30.MORGAN LIEBERMAN/For the Globe and Mail

As a teenager, Emily St. John Mandel loved to read science fiction, especially time travel stories.

Now the Vancouver Island-born, New York-based author writes books on similar themes, including her blockbuster station eleven, is set in a dystopian future where a global pandemic wipes out most of humanity, which was adapted into a hit HBO Max TV series. Yet before station eleven won the Arthur C. Clarke Prize for Science Fiction in 2015, Mandel did not consider herself a science fiction writer, she told The Globe in an interview. “It doesn’t contain science fiction technology, so it can’t be science fiction,” a literary agent had told her. But gradually, Mandel realized that this kind of prescriptive thinking was offensive to science fiction readers. And more importantly, she realized a more obvious point: Books can be of multiple genres, and siloing them does a disservice to writers and readers.

Now with his latest book, sea ​​of ​​tranquility (HarperCollins), Mandel completely immersed herself in science fiction tropes. There’s a lunar colony, a dome city, simulation theory, and time travel – a plot device and concept she’s always wanted to write about. She credits the pandemic for allowing her the “creative recklessness” to let go of any writer’s anxiety.

“I thought to myself, you know what, everything is terrible, I’m going to do this thing that’s going to make me happy. I’m going to write what I want and not worry about being taken seriously or these other useless ideas. who can attach themselves to you as a writer.

For Mandel, speculation and science fiction allow readers to better understand our current moment, but also to imagine futures we might want to avoid. “Sometimes seeing the worst-case scenario unfold in fiction is helpful in cementing to us what we don’t want the world to look like,” Mandel says.

Here, Mandel recommends his favorite science fiction and speculative fiction novels, which tackle themes ranging from the climate crisis and otherworldly phenomena to the ramifications of extreme partisanship.

american war (Penguin Random House) by Omar El Akkad

Written by the 2021 Giller Prize-winning author of What a strange paradise, the novel imagines an American Civil War occurring at some point in the near future. “An incredible masterpiece of speculative fiction,” says Mandel. “As you read it, it’s hard to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling that this is where politics in the United States could conceivably go when we’re in this era of obsessive partisanship.”

The Southern Reach Trilogy (HarperCollins) by Jeff VanderMeer

Named after a secret government agency, this series follows expeditions to Zone X, a mysterious area that has been cut off from the rest of the world and possesses otherworldly and dangerous phenomena. The first volume, Annihilation, was adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac. “They are so beautifully weird and wonderful and immersive. I couldn’t let go of them,” Mandel says.

Citrus Gold Fame (Penguin Random House) by Claire Vaye Watkins

In her debut novel, Vaye Watkins envisions a dystopian world where drought and extreme winds have ravaged California. Most people have been herded into internment camps, but a few resisters remain and try to survive on their own. “It’s a climate crisis novel about a desert that engulfs much of the western United States. It’s so interesting, and Vaye Watkins is so good,” Mandel says.

Migrations (Flatiron Books) by Charlotte McConaghy

Another novel about the climate crisis, Migrations takes place in the near future where the world is devastated by ecological collapse and mass extinction. The novel’s protagonist, Franny Stone, travels to Greenland to track the last Arctic terns on their possible final migration to Antarctica. says Mandel. “It’s a hard read, if well executed. I found it heartbreaking.”

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