Ling Ma’s Severance and the reality of 21st century apocalypse novels 

Ling Ma’s Severance is the ultimate capitalist apocalypse novel. Between the way it eerily seemed to predict the coronavirus epidemic to the continual mirror it places to our society, it is one of my favourite reads this year. 

In a world infected by Shen Fever – a disease that rots away at the brain of the ‘fevered’ and forces them into a cycle of repetition – our protagonist Candice aims to survive as best she can. However, unlike other zombie apocalypse novels and TV shows, there is none of the grotesque horror that fills this book. It is instead often apathy mixed with pity for those fevered. 

Severance moves away from the sensationalism that we are used to with apocalyptic, zombie dramas and novels. The world Candice lives in is very overtly and clearly our own. From the references to pop culture, major brands, and an almost spot on retelling of the way countries didn’t respond until it was too late to the pandemic, Ling Ma seems to be paving the way for a new kind of story. 

One that allows for social commentary. 

Zombie and horror books often have been shunned as being not worth critical attention, and yet Ling Ma’s dystopia opens the critical discourse for this genre and the capacity it holds to give a platform for real issues. Capitalism, migration, and identity run through this book as its major themes. 

It begs the question: to what extent are we like the fevered in the novel, going around our lives in an endless cycle of repetition? How often do we manage to break the routine that capitalism has laid forth for us? Have we become versions of these mindless drones? 

Ling Ma doesn’t give us a direct answer, which I think is why I enjoyed this book so much. Unlike other genres that seem to spell out their intention clearly through their plot, by projecting these ideas on to zombie-like characters there is a more imaginative canvas for debate and discussion. 

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