Severance was one of the most widely-read novel in the last couple of years, during the time of the pandemic.  And why not? It tells the story of Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she 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. Soon Candice, still unfevered, has to navigate a future in this nonfuture.

Unlike science fiction’s penchant to turn to an imagined future, this eerily prescient novel about a global pandemic originating out of China is set, not in the future, but in an alternative vision of our past, near the end of 2011, forcing us to reconsider how environmental catastrophes may be not speculative at all but already a haunting that is present, that our futures may be already written in our pasts. Ma’s Asian American protagonist also raises questions about how the environmental crisis is bound up with both the waste and productivity of neoliberalism, the dramas and traumas of intergenerational haunting for immigrant families, and the seduction of the Model Minority myth.

On environmentalism

Heise, Ursula, “What’s the Matter with Dystopia?,” from Public Books:

Newbury, Michael, “Fast Zombie/Slow Zombie: Food Writing, Horror Movies, and Agribusiness Apocalypse,” American Literary History 24, no. 1 (2012): 87-114.

Nishime, Leilani, and Kim D. Hester Williams, “Introduction: Why Racial Ecologies,” from Racial Ecologies (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2018), 3-15.

Sze, Julie, “Climate Justice, Satire, and Hothouse Earth,” from
The Routledge Companion to Contemporary Art, Visual Culture, and Climate Change (Routledge: New York, 2021), 173-181.

On neoliberalism and work: seductions & corrosions

Berlin, Lauren. Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) .

Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).

Sennett, Richard. The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998).

Tolentino, Jia. “Always Be Optimizing” from Trick Mirror (New York: Random House, 2019): 63-94.

On outbreaks, contagion, and the “Yellow Peril”

Wald, Priscilla. “Imagined Immunities: The Epidemiology of Belonging” from Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008): 29-67.

Chen, Mel. “Lead’s Racial Matters” from Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012): 159-188.

Day, Iyko. “The Yellow Plague and Romantic Anticapitalism,” from Monthly Review 01, July 2020,

Tchen, John Kuo Wei and Dylan Yeats. Yellow Peril! (London: Verso, 2014)

Lee, Rachel C. The Exquisite Corpse of Asian America: Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

On zombie narratives

The Walking Dead, season 1, episode 1 “Days Gone Bye,” directed by Frank Darabont, written by Frank Darabont, featuring, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, Jon Bernthal, Lennie James and Jeffrey DeMunn, aired Oct 31, 2010, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2010.

Other recommended research topics: the myth of the Model Minority and zombie apocalypse narratives.