Book review: Severance (Ling Ma, 2018)

July 14, 2023

Author: Ling Ma
Words: 87,009
Listening: 9h 54m
ISBN: 978-1250214997

WARNING: extremely lazy book review.

think Wikipedia describes the setting the best:

Severance takes place in an alternate history of the United States up to the end of 2011, before and during a pandemic of the fictional Shen Fever, a fictional fungal infection caused by Sheniodioides originating in Shenzhen, China. Real world events such as Occupy Wall Street unfold differently due to the Shen Fever pandemic.

Severance (novel) - English Wikipedia

The book was quite an intriguing read. At first, I was taken aback by what I can only describe as a “satirical” level of realism. The book is in essence about a zombie apocalypse, but the narrator devotes more attention to discussing office politics at her old day job, and delves into excruciating detail about bible manufacturing. This threw me off while reading, and my initial reaction was: “how is this relevant at all?”.

But as I spent extended periods of time inbetween listening sessions, I found my thoughts started to dwell on the content of the book more and more. Sure, it’s written as satire, but after a while it struck me that it sounds like the most authentic account of an apocalypse: all the characters are portrayed as ordinary individuals, dealing with their own past lives and struggling to accept the gravity of the situation. Oftentimes apocalyptic stories get romanticized, and this is definitely not that.

The parts of the book that deal with the period between the first reported cases of Shen Fever and the total collapse of society sound eerily similar to the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic. In that sense, I spent my time reading the book under the impression that Ling Ma’s prompt writing this book was: “what if the Covid-19 pandemic was ten times more devestating”? I did not know until after I finished the book that it was written in 2018, which makes the book weirdly prophetic.

I don’t really have a conclusion to end this post with, these are just some random thoughts I wanted to jot down about the book for my own posterity before I move on to my next read. No one’s reading these anyways I’m pretty sure.

Book Review

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I’m a computer science engineer with interest in a wide range of topics, including productivity, PKM, artificial intelligence, product development and game design.

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