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Severance by Ling Ma

Sci-fi

Severance

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ling Ma, on your first book!

YEARLY LOOK-BACK

Once a year, we break our own rules and share a book from earlier in the year that wowed us.

by Ling Ma

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Quick Take

This inventive satire about the end of the world as we know it is one we just didn't want to miss in 2018.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Nonlinear_Timeline

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Quirky

    Quirky

  • Illustrated icon, Literary

    Literary

  • Illustrated icon, Millenial

    Millennial

Synopsis

Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.

So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

Why I love it

Look, I want to be a good book-mom here and say that I love all our selections equally. But the truth is, there are a few reads from this year that I absolutely adored—For Better and Worse and An American Marriage come to mind—above all the others. And the book I loved most of all in 2018, the queen of the stack (if you will), is Severance.

The story has two plotlines, a Before and After. Before: Candace Chen, a twenty-something year old in New York City, toils at a totally unglamorous book production job, so mired in the details of Bible manufacture (polyurethane and sateen, anyone?) that she doesn’t realize a sudden pandemic is ringing in the apocalypse. After: Candace and a ragtag group of survivors flee west, trying to avoid encounters with the 99% of the world that the plague has reduced to (harmless) zombies—and scavenging for food, pills, and marijuana.

I don’t normally dig post-apocalyptic books because they always seem to devolve into the same stomach-turning quagmires of lawlessness and starvation. But in Severance, the end of the world is signaled not by tribes of fearsome cannibals, but by the gradual dismantling of corporate life; emails go unanswered, office branches are closed, and one by one, the great tentpoles of capitalism fall. That’s why I loved this book—it’s not so much scary as absurd, and more thoughtful than action-driven. It’s I Am Legend for the plugged-in, globally conscious, thinking woman. I could not be more obsessed.

Sci-fi
The Three-Body Problem
The Ministry of Time
The Stars Too Fondly
The Dark Forest
Severance
We Could Be Heroes
Camp Zero
Death’s End
The Impossible Fortress
The Power
The Oracle Year
Golden State
Sci-fi
View all
The Three-Body Problem
The Ministry of Time
The Stars Too Fondly
The Dark Forest
Severance
We Could Be Heroes
Camp Zero
Death’s End
The Impossible Fortress
The Power
The Oracle Year
Golden State