[7] Severance by Ling Ma

Book Cover: [7] Severance by Ling Ma

BOOK: Severance
YEAR: 2018
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Candace Chen loves her work and she loves the city. She is a millennial, first generation American, recently orphaned, and working an office job in New York. Absorbed in the routines of urban life and her job managing the publication of specialty bibles, she is oblivious when Shen Fever arrives in the city. The deadly virus from China kills many and transforms others into zombies who become trapped in repetitive tasks. As people flee the city and companies shut down, Candace keeps on working, spending her down-time blogging and photographing the empty city. Soon, Candace too must escape and she finds herself on a quest for a new life with a group of ill-equipped survivors led by a computer programmer named Bob with big promises and a thirst for power.

The seventh book in the LAX LAB climate fiction book club is Ling Ma’s 2018 novel Severance – the office-satire-apocalyptic-zombie-novel that you never knew you needed! While not exactly climate fiction, the themes in Severance are similar and I am confident that the novel will spark some different conversations on climate change.

Though many of us are probably weary of the topic by now, our conversations in the book club still invariably return to the pandemic. We frequently discuss climate change through the lens of our current situation and our personal experiences with lockdown and the altered rhythms of daily life. The one-year anniversary of the World Health Organisation declaring a pandemic has recently passed. Now seems like a good moment to reflect on the pandemic more deeply. I hope that this book will inspire discussions on work culture, sustainability, the relationship between climate change and pandemics, and how to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Urban life
Work culture

‘Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change’
Natasha Chassagne, The Conversation, 26 March 2020

‘Ling Ma’s Severance captures the bleak, fatalistic mood of 2018’
Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, 10 December 2018

‘How climate change is ushering in a new pandemic era’
Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, 7 December 2020

Severance predicted the slow-burn performance of our pandemic’
Hillary Kelly, Vulture, 18 March 2020

The Very Hungry Caterpiller by Eric Carle

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Music and other audio
Unknown Pleasures (1979) by Joy Division

Avalon (1982) by Roxy Music

New Wave Covers the Classics playlist by Mike Sauter

Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese Indie & Pop playlist by uniplanet

Emma Arnold