Millennial banality with zombies

Severance
by Ling Ma (Author), Nancy Wu (Narrator)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“The end begins before you are ever aware of it.“

Odd book. The beginning feels like Covid-19 reimagined, bacterial instead of viral. Or rather it’s prophetic, as it was written in 2018. Apocalyptic/dystopian on the surface, it reads more like literary fiction. Commentary on capitalism, consumerism, the life of millennials, hopes and aspirations and the reality of making ends meet, the occasional boredom and banality of everyday life and work.

A long look back at the depressing/monotonous life of the MC. Average millenial with average job, living an average-sounding life of the relatively well-off. Illness strikes, an outbreak at first and then a pandemic. People seem to wind up as harmless zombies, wandering about and repeating tasks of their living past. Society as we know it ends. Our MC eventually leaves New York and joins up with a group of other survivors.

The backstories of the MC and her parents, Chinese immigrants to the US, take centre stage for most of the book. Which made me question if the apocalyptic setting was just a gimmick, to draw more readers. There is an odd amount of narrative about the MCs book production job. This had me wondering even more, what the whole point of this book was supposed to be. The dystopian elements only play a small part.

One of my GR friends described this as a „a slightly disguised New Adult Contemporary coming of age“. It’s a bit deeper than that, but nails it pretty well.

The audiobook narrator sounded pretty bored and laconic for most of the book. Or depressed? Pretty similar to how the MC felt about her life before the apocalypse.

The last few chapters made up for the indifference I mostly felt towards this story. The ending is pretty open, which I usually hate, but it gave a nice sense of purpose and possibility here.

Lovecraftian Halloween

I am not much of a seasonal reader, but I made an exception for this Halloween. I think I picked well.

The Resurrectionists (Salem Hawley, #1)
by Michael Patrick Hicks

Needles of black vapor curled into split lips and threaded its way up the nostrils, enshrouding the individual‘s head in a constantly stirring sack of mist.

Chapter Two

The first chapter is certainly creepy, showing a vivisection on a person. The above quote is a memory though, recalling the Battle of Camden in 1780, during the American Revolutionary War.
This novella is set a few years later. The main character, Salem Hawley, won his emancipation after fighting on the side of the colonies during the American Revolution and seems to be a teacher in New York.

This is about 150 pages, so I might finish today. So far I like the writing style.

My stop is here…

One Last Stop
by Casey McQuiston

The blurb reminded me of Kate & Leopold, the movie that put Hugh Jackman on my radar as an actor. After reading the first three chapters, I put the book away. Not bad, but I couldn‘t work up much interest. August (Kate) mets Jane (Leopold) in the subway and eventually realizes that something fishy is going on, namely that Jane is from the 1970s. Nice idea, I‘m just not feeling it. DNF for now, around 19% and 70-odd pages. It‘s probably me.

P.S.: I really liked her previous book, Red, White & Royal Blue.

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula K. Le Guin

“What Earthsea and the Hainish Cycle have in common is maximal impact with minimal page count.”

From the ebook introduction

After reading the first three chapters, I put this away, as I wasn‘t having fun with it. When this was published in 1969, it might have been a groundbreaking work. Now, after having read my share of gender-bending novels, this felt dated to me. The writing is dry, the style is not engaging me. Little plot progression, no exploration of the characters, to whom I felt absolutely no emotional connection.

It‘s probably also not quite what I was expecting. I read the blurb and thought „genderless society, lots of commentary and exploration about their personal interactions and divergence compared to our society“, but none of that happened in the first 60 pages.

The topic of loyalty and betrayal could have introduced more tension, but was told just as blandly. By the time I reached the supposedly more interesting part of their travel North, I had lost my will to continue. I am not interested to keep on going in the hopes of more.

One thing that irritated me deeply: The characters are all genderless, with brief exceptions of their „kemmer“, aka fertile periods / their Time / heat. Yet they are all being referred to as „he“. Which wouldn’t necessarily be an issue—Leckie does the same thing in reverse in her Imperial Radch novels and I had no issue with it. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, I am not sure. I plan to re-read Ancilliary Justice this year, so I will pay more attention to that. However, when descriptions were made of someone appearing or behaving feminine in some way (irritating in itself), it was always with a negative slant. Maybe the point was to show how strange the situation was for the narrator, but it just made me dislike the book deeply. Why do female authors do that?

Another strange point was the narrator not seeming to be interested in what was going on in the society he was supposed to get to know. Odd. 

Maybe I should have expected something slow and not obvious, considering that this was first published in 1969. This reminded me of Foreigner, which was also a book of only middling success for me. I guess in the future I should just stay away from the SF Classics.

DNF around 20%. No impact in too many pages. I might revisit this review or the book again at some point.