Driving down a road on the Big Island of Hawaii got me thinking about Emily St. John Mandel’s wonderful dystopian novel Station Eleven. Not because the Big Island makes me think of dystopia, but the isolation of the island got me thinking about the possibility of whether there could have been parts of the world that may not have been directly impacted by Mandel’s flu pandemic. Or, perhaps, how post-flu life for survivors on the Big Island might have been different than it was in the Great Lakes as portrayed in Station Eleven.
I can’t say that I have ever read fan fiction of any sort, but the more I thought about Station Eleven: The Big Island Edition, the more I was hoping someone may do it. I would never give it a go myself because for me to be happy with the effort it would take a good deal of research I am unwilling to undertake and a good deal more creative talent than I possess.
But let’s ponder the possibilities:
Does the Big Island get skipped, or do we encounter small groups of survivors?
My first thought was that the island get’s skipped entirely by the pandemic and that the 187,000 or so residents (and the thousands of tourists stranded there) have to make do with resources on the island as they are eventually cut off from the rest of the world, and technology begins to fail. But in order for this scenario to be plausible there would have to be something that would keep people from getting to the Big Island as the pandemic swept the globe. Since Mandel’s flu was pretty fast moving, one could imagine it just might be plausible that a multi-day hurricane event, perhaps leading to damages to the airports on the island, keep any visitors from arriving. By that time, the pandemic could be understood in the rest of the world and officials on or off the island make the decision to keep the island closed off to visitors. There could even be conflicts about whether or not to sabotage the airports to keep the contagion out. Maybe a few last flights out to let some visitors foolishly fly to their ultimate deaths…you see the possibilities here?
Perhaps it could be just as rich and entertaining if the pandemic did hit the island and left just 1% or so of it’s population. That would leave just about 1,870 residents plus about 200 tourists that survive. (This really could be an information junkie’s fantasy camp. In 2004 the Big Island had just under 10,000 guest rooms. Absent newer information at my fingertips, let’s use that number. Assuming 2 people per room, gives us 20,000 visitors at any given time, and only 1% of them surviving the flu.) So we have 2,070 people alive on the very big, Big Island. With 2.5 million acres (4,028 square miles), there would be plenty of room for everyone–even if the pandemic did skip the island.
Both scenarios would be fascinating, but the latter is probably more in keeping with Mandel’s original.
No dangerous animals and lots of food?
Other than humans, and a feral dog or two, the Big Island has no dangerous mammals that would threaten the human population. But what they do have are all the typical domesticated animals like cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, etc. (and feral versions of each of these as well). And we haven’t even talked about what the ocean would be able to provide. There are also enough market gardeners and other farmers that could keep the green things growing and pass along their expertise. As we know from Station Eleven, as technology starts to fail those farmers would have to get back to the basics, but that seems doable–especially if your base population is only around 2,000 people.
Opportunities for conflict
With adequate food and water sources, and a hospitable climate, one wonders if Mandel’s dystopia would turn into more of an Utopia. Possibly, but all of the human conflicts are still possible, and when you add in the visitors with the local population, on-island military personnel, the breakdown of technology, etc. you could probably come up with enough friction to make things interesting.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention the active volcanoes?
With three active volcanoes on the island, including one that has been erupting continually since 1983, what more needs to be said? Pele (the Hawaiian fire goddess, not the soccer player) could make one of those babies pop in a spectacular way at any time.
Contact with the neighboring nation-state/kingdom of Maui…
Do the people of the Big Island eventually make contact with survivors on neighboring Maui? With the possibility of a self-sustaining island, do they risk allowing a relationship with Maui? Do they keep them at bay? Do they invade Maui? Do the Hawaiian islands reunify? Do they eventually travel even further into the South Pacific like the ancient natives did?
The full scale return of Hawaiian culture?
Hawaii is one of the few places I have been in the developed world, where I feel like enough of the traditional ways have been passed on and preserved, and in some cases are still practiced, that I feel they could lead the way in surviving. From how to work the land sustainably, to native fishing techniques, building and navigating outrigger canoes…I might be romanticizing the remaining abilities a bit, but I think less so than in many other places. Not to mention that there is a UH campus on the Big Island and the native Hawaiian studies program is not an abstraction in the same way it would be elsewhere.
The list goes on
In many ways the Hawaiian island of Molokai is more isolated from outsiders (and was once a leper colony) but it’s close proximity to Maui and Lanai make it seem less isolated. And there is Niihau (The Forbidden Isle), the only privately owned of the eight main Hawaiian islands. It is virtually closed off to visitors and many of its 170 or so inhabitants live a relatively native life. And then this sets me to thinking about other remote parts of the world, islands and otherwise. Some that are very remote perhaps would be disrupted very little. But what about the British island of St. Helena? The remote island in the south Atlantic where Napoleon was finally exiled and died. They easily could have missed the contagion. The mind boggles. Perhaps if Mandel gets bored she could write little sketches about how various parts of the world fared. Maybe Netflix could turn it into a series…