‘Severance’ is a psychological thriller about the employees of a bio-tech corporation that ‘severs’ its workers’ memories, so that their work selves have no memory of their non-work selves, and vice versa. It follows Mark Scout (played by Adam Scott) who tries to uncover the truth of what’s going on along with his team in the Macrodata Refinement department. It’ll be a long wait for season 2, so here’s what you should read in the meantime!
Below are five books with similar vibes to ‘Severance’ — primarily speculative thrillers and workplace satires.
1. Foe by Iain Reid
First, Foe is another psychological thriller dealing with a corporation with questionable intentions and how it impacts a couple’s lives. The aerospace corporation OuterMore sends a representative named Terrance to the remote farmhouse of Henrietta and Junior to inform Junior he’s been selected to travel to a space station. While he’s gone, an identical robotic replacement Junior will live with his wife.
The novel follows the years leading up to Junior’s departure. During this period, the corporate representative carefully observes Hen and Junior to gather intel to create Junior’s biomechanical clone. It’s told from Junior’s perspective and follows his discomfort with the eerie situation — there’s more going on than meets the eye.
Reid also wrote the book I’m Thinking of Ending Things that was adapted into a Charlie Kaufman film in 2020. Foe is also set to become a movie, starring Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, and LaKeith Stanfield.
2. Ubik by Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was a master of sci-fi and satire, and Ubik is no exception.
In the novel, humans commonly experience psychic powers, including telepathy. Corporations hire “anti-psychics” to work against psychic-spies for security. The main character, Joe Chip, is one of these corporate anti-psychics.
One mission leaves Joe Chip and his team experiencing strange, psychic shifts in reality — like time moving backwards and hallucinating events. The only remedy to this is a compound called Ubik, a product in a spray-can that reverses these effects. Still, the team must figure out what’s causing these reality shifts in the first place.
3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake is a 2003 speculative fiction book by Margaret Atwood (the first book of her MaddAddam trilogy) that sharply criticizes the extensive role of corporations and capitalism in society.
The narrative alternates between a man named Snowman surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, and him as a young boy when he went by Jimmy. Jimmy’s early life before the apocalypse took place in a dystopia where society was pretty much completely manufactured by corporations selling new luxuries, pills, and treatments. His father was a genetic engineer for the company HealthWyzer, and the family lived in the HealthWyzer compound. Living in a compound was necessary to be safe from a dangerous and depraved outside world.
Ultimately, the story follows how all of this corporate greed ultimately lead to the end of civilization, and Jimmy’s role in it.
4. Orientation: And Other Stories by Daniel Orozco
Daniel Orozco’s Orientation: And Other Stories is a collection of short stories that aim to show the absurdity in mundane situations, including at the workplace. Offices and job-sites are hotbeds of strange rituals, demeanors, and scripts we conform to under the guise of professionalism, and Orozco highlights that in many of the stories in this collection.
The collection isn’t sci-fi or thriller in nature, but its examination of our inner lives is unsettling at times.
5. Severance by Ling Ma
Despite the title, this book is completely unrelated to the show, but they’re a similar kind of disconcerting. Ling Ma’s novel is the story of a woman named Candace Chen who is living in New York City when the fictional Shen Fever pandemic hits in 2011.
Candace is a hard-working employee of a Bible publishing company, and she continues to go into the office as New York falls apart around her. The Shen Fever doesn’t exactly make you sick, but it gets you stuck in a deadly nostalgic malaise. It essentially turns people into zombies of routine.
Overall, it’s a sharp satirical look at work culture and capitalism like the other ‘Severance,’ and eerily relevant to current times.
For more book recommendations, head over to Bookstr’s Recommendations Page!