Emily St. John Mandel on Time Travel, Parenting and the Apocalypse


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Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel was published in 2014. That book imagined the world after a pandemic had wiped out, well, almost everyone. It’s a gorgeous novel with a particular emotional power: it helps you grieve a life you still have. But then came a real pandemic, not as lethal as the one Mandel imagined, but a shock nonetheless. And “Station Eleven” — already a beloved international best seller — found a second life. Mandel became known as a pandemic prophet. “Station Eleven” became an acclaimed HBO Max series.

Sea of Tranquility” by Mandel is written from within the hothouse of that strange kind of celebrity. The author put a version of herself in there, struggling with fame and parenthood and quarantine and too much travel. But there are also moon colonies, and time travel, and hints that we live in a computer simulation. If “Station Eleven” explores how calamity could change the world, “Sea of Tranquility” wonders what happens if it doesn’t.

This conversation begins in the weirdness of the simulation hypothesis, but winds its way to much more fundamental questions of being human right now. There is so much we could lose, so much we already have lost; why is it so hard to live with the gratitude our lives should inspire, or the seriousness the moment demands?


The Power of Patience” by Jennifer L. Roberts

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?” by Nick Bostrom

Book recommendations:

Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at ezrakleinshow@nytimes.com.

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

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