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About The Book

In a near-future northern settlement, the fates of a young woman, a professor, and a mysterious collective of climate researchers collide in this mesmerizing and transportive debut that “delivers its big ideas with suspense, endlessly surprising twists, and abundant heart” (Jessamine Chan, New York Times bestselling author).

In remote northern Canada, a team led by a visionary American architect is break­ing ground on a building project called Camp Zero, intended to be the beginning of a new way of life. A clever and determined young woman code-named Rose is offered a chance to join the Blooms, a group hired to entertain the men in camp—but her real mission is to secretly monitor the mercurial architect in charge. In return, she’ll receive a home for her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother and herself.

Rose quickly secures the trust of her target, only to discover that everyone has a hidden agenda, and nothing is as it seems. Through skill­fully braided perspectives, including those of a young professor longing to escape his wealthy family and an all-woman military research unit struggling for survival at a climate station, the fate of Camp Zero’s inhabitants reaches a stunning crescendo.

Atmospheric, fiercely original, and utterly gripping, Camp Zero is an electrifying page-turner and a masterful exploration of who and what will survive in a warming world, and how falling in love and building community can be the most daring acts of all.


Chapter One: Rose CHAPTER ONE ROSE
The Blooms receive their new names on the shortest day of the year. Six women in total. All strangers. They stand in an empty parking lot and wait to be checked in. Snow has scrubbed the landscape clean, capped the roof of the run-down mall that is one of the few buildings still standing on this frozen stretch of highway.

The Bloom last in line pauses to appreciate the freeze. It’s colder in the North than she expected, and the snow is more delicate. She takes off a glove and watches a flake vanish in the palm of her hand. She’s never seen snow before, and the snowflake feels refreshing on her skin, like a cool cloth pressed to a feverish forehead.

When she reaches the entrance to the mall, her new Madam introduces herself as Judith. She is nothing like the Bloom’s previous Madam, who drifted around in a linen caftan and calfskin sandals. Judith wears a fur-lined parka, black snow pants, and a pair of steel-toe boots, as if she was hired to demolish the dilapidated mall they’re standing in front of.

Judith reads off a clipboard. “Your name will be Rose.”

“Rose,” she repeats. A cloying, sentimental name. Like a grandmother who keeps apple pies in the deep-freeze. She had expected one of the pseudonyms shared among the “Asian Girls” in the Loop where she used to work: Jade, Mei, Lotus. It never mattered that the names were cliché, or that she is as white as she is Korean. Back in the Floating City, ethnicity was a ready-made brand.

Judith lowers her voice. “I wanted to let you girls choose your names for yourself. But Meyer likes things his way.”

“Is Meyer my client?” Rose asks, careful to sound casual.

“He doesn’t want us to use that word here, Rose. Think of him as your collaborator.” Judith opens the front door of the mall and Rose follows inside. “Welcome to the Millennium Mall.”

The Blooms’ quarters are at the back of the mall in a department store that has long since been pillaged. Metal clothing racks are scattered in jumbled piles, and the beauty counters’ mirrors are mottled. Rose can smell the faintest trace of artificial gardenia as she rolls her suitcase past a perfume display, where an ad of a woman’s glowing face pressed against the bristly cheek of a male model still remains. Her mother never wore perfume and hadn’t allowed Rose to either. She wanted them to smell as they actually did, like the saltwater breeze of the peninsula.

“When did the mall close?” Rose asks.

“Fifteen years ago,” Judith says. “It was the first place to shutter when the rigs stopped drilling.”

Judith leads Rose to the former furniture section where the Blooms’ lodgings have been built out of plywood along an echoing corridor. Each room’s entrance is framed by light, and Rose can hear the sounds of the other Blooms unpacking behind the closed doors.

Judith opens Rose’s door and deposits her single suitcase on a mahogany four-poster bed. A bear pelt is splayed across the floor, and a rickety plastic chandelier is bolted to the ceiling. A vanity mirror with a small, upholstered stool in front of it is against the wall. The room reeks of damp pleather.

Damien, her former client who set her up with this job, warned her that the camp would be spare, but he said nothing about squatting in a derelict shopping mall. It’s too late to give Damien shit now. Rose won’t speak with him again until her assignment is complete. All she has is her contact in camp, who Damien promised would reach out when the moment is right. She wonders if Judith might be her contact, but then decides this clipboard-wielding woman is too straightforward for that level of deception.

“Water is heated to tepid,” Judith says, and shows Rose the “sanitizing schedule” tacked to her bedroom door. Judith explains that the Blooms are expected to share the mall’s washroom, where a nozzle attached to one of the sink’s faucets functions as a makeshift shower. “We run on oil and have to conserve energy to maintain our supply.”

“Oil isn’t illegal here?” Rose asks in surprise. In the Floating City, oil usage is treated with the same moral outrage as murder.

“Nothing is illegal in camp,” Judith says. “That’s why we live off-grid. We’re lucky enough to make our own rules here.”

Rose wonders if the rules of the camp are like the rules of the Floating City, created to benefit those who made them. If this is the case, then she doubts Judith is the one who made the rules. Judith strikes her as a middle manager, a local hire paid to oversee the Blooms, whose influence in camp is confined to the domestic arrangements of the bedrooms. But Judith is technically Rose’s boss, so she will have to adopt the blasé disinterest of a jaded escort to keep her new Madam from becoming suspicious of her. Even if Judith only runs the Blooms’ side of camp, she still holds some form of power, which is more than Rose can openly say for herself.

Judith tells Rose to unload her suitcase on the bedspread. Rose dumps the contents into a pile: two slips, a bodycon cocktail dress, a black silk dress, a silk robe, linen pajamas, a merino wool sweater, two pairs of pants, a few blouses, socks, lingerie sets, back-seam stockings, shiny heels, calfskin boots, hair ties, and cosmetics. Judith is quiet and focused as she inspects each item.

“What are you looking for?” Rose asks.

“Sharp edges. And drugs.” Judith flicks on the jet-black lace lamp on the nightstand, illuminating a stack of books. “We keep a clean house here. Only booze and cigarettes allowed.”

Judith runs her fingers along the seams of Rose’s clothing, rifling through the cosmetic bag, opening the lipsticks and powder. Rose feels an impulse to snatch her clothes away from her. She picks up one of the books on the nightstand instead, a hardcover titled Building in Ruins, with a photo of a young, bearded, solemn-looking man printed inside the dust jacket. His shirtsleeves are rolled to his elbows, and he appears to be standing in a parched acre of desert next to a modernist house.

“?‘An indispensable manifesto on finding silver linings in annihilation,’?” Rose reads from the back cover. “Is it any good?”

“Oh, you like to read?” Judith sounds surprised. “You’re welcome to find out for yourself. That’s Meyer’s first book, published right after he graduated from architecture school. You’ll find all of his writings here.” Judith taps another book titled Utopia after the Anthropocene. “He likes to keep us educated.”

For a moment, Rose doesn’t care about the mildewy smell in the room, or that a panel in the ceiling is caving in, or even that her new Madam assumes she’s illiterate. Meyer’s books are here for her to read. A small victory, but an essential one. Reading what Meyer thinks and feels will be the first step to gaining his trust. Everything Damien promised her depends on this.

“The room is very…” Rose searches for the right word. “Cozy.”

Judith looks at her and then laughs. “That’s bullshit and you know it. It smells like a dead animal in here. But we have to make do with what we have. Let me show you the kitchen.”

Judith leads Rose down a dark hallway into a room that smells of fresh paint and industrial glue. The kitchen is nothing like the polished dining rooms of the Loop where she used to dine with clients. This kitchen looks like it was once the department store’s staff break room, complete with a microwave, an electric two-burner stove, and a fridge that hums in the corner. A white plastic table, the kind left to mildew in a backyard, is positioned in the corner of the room next to a stack of patio chairs.

The camp’s kitchen may not have a wine cellar, but at least it has natural light. Rose steps toward the floor-to-ceiling window and watches the snow softly falling on the trees. This view will be her refuge.

“The snow is so pure you can eat it with a spoon,” Judith says.

Rose is impressed. Even in the Floating City, the water is filtered. Or is it ozonated? She can’t recall. She touches behind her left ear to check which it is, but Judith interrupts her by gesturing to one of the chairs.

“I’m going to recite a short statement and need your verbal consent if you agree,” Judith says.

Rose sits down at the table and nods.

“AKA Rose, do you agree to undergo Flick extraction for a period of three months?” Judith looks at her digital wristwatch. “Commencing at 1:12 p.m., December 21, 2049?”

Rose knows she has no choice. “Yes.”

“Can you lean toward me?” Judith unzips a leather bag and snaps a latex glove on each hand.

Rose pushes her hair over one shoulder. “Will it hurt?”

“No more than it did going in.” Judith ties Rose’s hair with an elastic band and presses behind Rose’s left ear until she finds the telltale bump. “You were one of the first to get implanted, weren’t you?”

“How can you tell?”

“Your Flick is first-generation, which makes it easier to locate.”

Rose had been five years old when she received her Flick. Before it became common practice to implant at birth, every child received a Flick before starting kindergarten. One Child—One Flick. A school nurse had scanned Rose’s eyes and fingerprints, then imprinted her facial data with a flash photo. The nurse asked Rose to wave at the implantation robot with its smiling face and two disquietingly unblinking eyes. The robot waved back before making three tiny punctures along the crown of Rose’s head as it weaved the electrode threads through the synapses of her brain. When the two-millimeter opening was cut behind her left ear, Rose felt a tiny implosion of pressure. A single tear had rolled down her cheek as the robot nested the iridescent chip into the incision.

Now Judith presses again, harder this time. “There you are.” She marks the spot with a pen. “Count to three. This will only be a pinch.”

Rose closes her eyes as Judith uncaps the metal plunger and presses firmly. A sucking sound, mounting pressure, and then a precise pop.

“You’re all done, Rose.” Judith uses pin droppers to place the Flick into a test tube.

“Can I see it?” Rose asks after Judith seals the tube.

Judith shrugs and hands the test tube to her. “It’s yours.”

Rose has never seen her Flick, even though it has been in her body for over twenty years. Hers is bulkier than the ones now routinely implanted. It is about the same size as the nail on her pinky finger, and almost translucent, but when she tilts the tube from side to side, the Flick shimmers in the colors of bioluminescence—coral, green, topaz.

“Do you feel different?” Judith asks.

Rose looks at the top left corner of the room. She blinks. Once. Twice. Nothing. No feed appears. Think of something dead. No, something beyond dead. Think of something extinct.

The last story Rose saw on her Flick involved Samson the tiger at the Bronx Zoo dying of heatstroke. A headline as feed-worthy as one of the last living tigers on Earth would usually trigger a proliferating cascade of stories—the encyclopedia entry on tigers in captivity; vintage footage of baby tigers rolling around in dirt; a biologist lecturing on the challenges of raising big cats in a warming climate; tiger stripes; tiger ice cream; stuffed tigers; humans in tiger suits. Rose focuses and thinks again: tiger. But still her feed does not appear.

Instead, she remembers the tiger she once saw at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, back when the zoo was still open and the resident tiger alive. Her mother had taken her to celebrate her sixth birthday, a rare break from their life on the peninsula. The memory is grainy, but she can see it more clearly if she closes her eyes: her mother, unfathomably young, eating an overpriced ice cream cone while seated on a blisteringly hot steel bench. She passes the ice cream to Rose and holds a napkin under her daughter’s chin while she licks. Once the cone is consumed, she picks Rose up to see the animal behind bars, a happiness swelling between them that blooms into her mother tongue.

“Horangi,” her mother says, and points at the tiger.

Rose dangles there for a moment in her mother’s arms, trying to catch the attention of the lusciously striped animal by repeating the Korean word. She falters on the second syllable and feels her cheeks flush with embarrassment. The tiger doesn’t care about her poor pronunciation. He sits perfectly still like he has been frozen in amber, blinking only when a fly settles into his eye’s dark crease.

A dusty memory conjured from the ether. Damien had warned her that without her Flick, memories might surface unexpectedly, but she hadn’t anticipated how near they’d feel again. She closes her eyes, and her mother is still there, laughing in a way Rose had forgotten.

“I can’t access my feed,” Rose says, and hands back the Flick.

Judith places the tube in the wooden box. “You’ll get used to it. Meyer wants the Blooms to be pure and uncorrupted by technology.”

Rose touches behind her ear instinctively. Nothing remains except for the blue dot of ink.

During their first morning in camp, the Blooms gather for breakfast in the kitchen wearing heels and shimmery powder, their cheeks and lips shining under the fluorescent light. It is still pitch-dark outside. They sit elegantly at the plastic table, but without their Flicks to hold their attention, their fingers tap the table or absently fidget with the bangles at their wrists, the delicate string of gold around their necks. Their eyes flicker to the corners of the room out of habit, but their feed doesn’t appear to amuse them. Instead, they look at each other.

Judith tells them they are the first Blooms in camp and should feel proud to be chosen.

“We considered many girls,” Judith says as she pins a name tag above each of their hearts. “Only you six were selected.”

They quickly learn their new names: Iris, Jasmine, Violet, Fleur, Rose, and Willow. Pretty names. Prom queen names. Rose takes careful note of each Bloom as she introduces herself.

The one named Iris smells of perfumed figs. Her voice is low and sultry, and when she smiles at each Bloom, the lines around her eyes crinkle for a moment before disappearing. Her red hair is styled into a stiff chignon, and she wears a white silk blouse with a pussy bow. At Avalon’s club in the Loop, mature hostesses like Iris were instructed to learn the holy trinity—politics, travel, golf—topics older clients of a certain provenance liked to discuss over dinner before retiring to their suite for the evening.

Jasmine’s hair is cut into a blunt bob, and she has the long, delicate hands of someone who is adept at playing piano or flower arranging. She is what Avalon would call “a classic beauty,” with clear eyes, clear skin, a lovely neck. She is also a type Rose has seen in the Loop before: the blue-blooded whore with the New England pedigree, educated at one of the last elite women’s colleges, where she learned the cool manners and erudite references of Boston’s business class. A girl who looks at ease in a designer jacket and pearls, who knows her way around a salad fork, and is conversational in three languages. Girlfriend experience. Travel companion. Vacations on private yachts and dune-swept islands guarded by well-paid thugs in cheap suits.

Violet is from New Orleans, and her roots in the region run deep. She tells the Blooms that her Creole father was a musician and taught her to play half a dozen instruments. Later, she received a partial scholarship to attend a renowned music college in New York, but she soon ran out of money when her funding disappeared with budget cuts. After dropping out of school, she worked to pay rent, playing gigs at small clubs and seeing clients on the side in the condo she shared with four other independents. She wears a red jumpsuit, and her hair is in long braids.

Fleur is self-consciously blond and justifies this fact by saying she is from California. She lived in a coastal town north of San Francisco before the town was evacuated during a wildfire and, after, packed all her belongings into her car and fled inland. She found work in the Blue Lady Lodge, one of the last legal brothels still running in the desert of Nevada, where she was relieved to discover that the land was barren and treeless. When she wasn’t servicing military men and gamblers, she was creating sculptures out of colorful glass and clay. She wants to make more art after this job and hopes to open her first exhibition in a defunct gas station on the outskirts of Las Vegas, where she’ll install her sculptures next to the long-derelict oil pumps. Fleur wears a shibori-dyed caftan, the bangles on her wrists clinking as she fiddles with the name tag on her chest.

The Bloom called Willow is the only one dressed casually. A slinky girl with a shaved head, she wears stained overalls and a white T-shirt, and has the trim, responsive body of a kickboxer. Unlike the rest of the Blooms, she offers no explanation as to where she is from, or why she is here. Instead, she pages her way through a novel while chewing on a fingernail, until Judith calls on her to introduce herself. Willow looks up to take the Blooms in for a calculated second, says her name, and then immediately returns to her book.

Judith turns toward Rose. “Rose joins us from the Floating City.” The Blooms suddenly eye her with a mix of respect and suspicion.

Rose has dressed like a vigilant secretary on her first day of work to show the other Blooms that she means business. She wears patent leather pumps and back-seam stockings, a short black silk dress cinched at her waist, and lipstick the color of dried blood.

Violet says to Rose, “Do you know how lucky you are to have worked there?”

“Yeah, why did you leave?” Jasmine asks.

“I was looking for a change of pace, that’s all,” Rose says, noticing that Judith is watching her.

Fleur closes her eyes for a moment and smiles. “I get it. Totally. You wanted to see if life really is better up north.”

Willow sets her book down on the table and runs a hand over her buzzed hair. She looks directly at Rose. “And is it?”

Rose can still sense Judith’s attention on her, which makes her answer carefully. “Of course it is.”

“That’s right, Rose. We are all so lucky to be in the North,” Judith says, and smiles benevolently at the Blooms. “But we also have to protect ourselves up here. That’s why certain rules must be followed while we’re living together.”

Judith tells the Blooms that they will take two walks every day. Once in the morning after breakfast when the first rays of light spill over camp, and once in the afternoon as the sun sets. Wind, snow, ice, sleet—none of it matters. They will walk, Judith says, regardless of the weather. Other than their daily walks, they will be confined inside the mall. Their rooms, the kitchen, and the unused spaces of the department store are free for their use. But they should never wander unescorted into the farther reaches of the mall, or outside, where the stretch of highway winds north.

Rose already knows what it’s like to stay indoors when the temperatures flare into triple-digit streaks during the summer months. She spent weeks in the cool climes of central air as the asphalt steamed in the intense heat. Staying indoors won’t be a problem for her. It’s who she is inside with that matters.

“You must never cross the highway,” Judith continues. “Right now, the Diggers are in that warehouse, desperate for anything that will take their minds off their circumstances.”

“Diggers?” Iris asks.

“Yes, Diggers. They’re the men hired to work at the construction site,” Judith says.

“We can take care of ourselves. We know men,” Violet chimes in.

“You don’t know these kinds of men,” Judith replies. “The only thing they’re good for is digging holes in the earth.” She softens her voice. “Not like your clients, of course. They’re real gentlemen.” Judith looks out the window at the falling snow. “It must be a relief to feel the cold.”

A few of Rose’s clients in the Loop had taken vacations in the Arctic Circle, where they paid the equivalent of her yearly salary to drift in a luxury cruise ship among the melting icebergs. “A lost world,” one client had said as he showed Rose image after image of blue ice. “Someday, seeing an iceberg will be more impossible than visiting the moon.”

The prophesizing about how and what and, most important, who will survive was a common topic among Rose’s clients. They often discussed how they planned to hold on to their wealth in periods of crisis. Offshore banks. Offshore cities. Temperamental government bonds cashed into gold. Divestment of all fossil fuels into clean-energy portfolios, with a healthy percentage devoted to data surveillance and cybernetics research.

Rose wonders if Meyer feels differently than her former clients. If he’s anything like Damien told her, then he still naïvely believes in a better future. And this is what Rose can use to her advantage: his belief that he can save the world, not merely cash in on its destruction.

After a breakfast of boiled oats, Judith leads the Blooms to the entrance of the mall and shows them where their long, fur-lined parkas and knee-high snow boots are stored. Each jacket has a flower embroidered in colorful thread—a blood-red bud for Rose; a nest of dark blue for Violet; a cluster of white blossoms for Jasmine; a pink spray for Fleur; purple-and-yellow petals for Iris. Unlike the rest of the Blooms, whose flowers are depicted as cut from the plant they grew on, Willow’s jacket features an entire tree with long, drowsy branches that reach to the intricate root system. Silver flowers blossom on each branch. Rose once saw a similar depiction of the willow tree in the cemetery on the peninsula where her father was buried, carved on the slate tombstones of the Puritans who settled New England centuries ago. A symbol of death, but also of rebirth.

The Blooms take their designated parkas and suit up for the outdoors. When they step outside, the morning sun is rising. It is crisp, bright, and freezing today. Rose inhales deeply. The air is so refreshing that it demands to be sealed in little silver cylinders and shipped to the south, where it would be as prized as a trunk filled with rations during a famine.

Rose chooses not to pair off with a Bloom and walks by herself in the snow-filled lot, along the edge of the metal fence that marks the boundary of their new home. She notices a locked gate in the center of the fence with an intercom to buzz people in or out. Judith’s rules aren’t the only obstacle keeping the Blooms inside.

Rose turns to watch the Blooms walk laps around the frozen parking lot. She wonders if they feel flattered to be part of a hand-selected crew. Curated. It’s a word that emerges unbidden. It’s true. They are curated. The mature redhead. The refined WASP. The athletic Black girl. The dreamy blond artist. The tough alt-girl. And Rose, fulfilling the coy Asian role. Who chose them? And why?

A hand taps her shoulder, and Rose turns to find Willow standing beside her. In her massive parka and fur-lined boots, she seems younger and rangier than she did in the kitchen.

“They’re watching us,” Willow says, and points.

Across the highway, a group of men dressed in identical snowsuits the color of mop water stand huddled outside a warehouse. Each has a spade resting over his shoulder.

“The Diggers?” Rose asks.

Willow nods. “Yes. Judith says they’re filthy bastards.”

Rose watches them jostle each other playfully. One pushes another forward, and he laughs and steps back. “They look harmless to me.”

Willow laughs harshly. “How can you be so sure?”

Three of the Diggers begin to walk toward the middle of the highway. They joke loudly, egging each other on, until one finally ventures forward and knocks his spade against the metal fence. He shouts and waves. The Blooms stop in their tracks and look back. The Digger suddenly flips into a handstand and moves along the side of the fence, legs dangling in the air as his gloved hands make indentations in the snow.

The Digger flips back onto his feet and takes a deep bow. His face is flushed with blood, and his mouth flashes gold as he grins at the pretty women in their oversized down parkas.

Rose greets the man with a wave, and he bows again, clearly pleased to have succeeded in getting her attention.

Suddenly, a flash of movement on the highway. In the distance, six SUVs curl through the still landscape, each towing a sleek Airstream trailer that shimmers in the low winter sun. As they drive past the mall parking lot, Rose notices each hood has a small green flag emblazoned with a geodesic dome. She can’t see anything through the tinted windows, but she knows their clients are in there.

Judith calls the Blooms by their new names, and before Rose follows, she turns back to see the SUVs drive past the workers’ camps, north along the highway. Where they’re going is a mystery, but Rose intends to find out.

Rose hurries back to the mall. She should get ready. The clients will drop by soon and she needs to ensure Meyer chooses her.

Back in her room, Rose sits on the bed and out of habit taps behind her left ear. She winces. The place where her Flick was extracted is still tender. Her clients often spoke in rhapsodic terms on how the mind grows “free” without the intrusion of the Flick, but like most of the other hostesses in the Loop, she preferred to be on-feed when she wasn’t working. Now, she feels uneasy without the Flick, as if a part of her body has been plucked off. But her mind also feels clearer. Sharper.

She picks up one of Meyer’s books off the nightstand and reads the introduction:

This book begins with a simple premise: What can we create out of destruction? Building in ruins is a strategy once utilized in postwar environments, in the debris of bombed cities, the carnage of the killing field. Humans have always created empires by drawing borders with blood. But the war we now fight is not as nations, but within our own countries and communities, and with the earth itself. We must begin to rebuild on land that has been destroyed by human folly: a former nuclear test site; a clear-cut forest; a devastated city post-storm; the excavated remains of oil extraction. Land needs people to tend and caretake, to build and dream. By bringing people to live among ruin, we may still have a chance to survive.

The last thing Damien told Rose before she left for camp was that Meyer would argue that survival is a trait inherent to human evolution. “But survival is always a choice,” Damien had said as they sat at the rosewood table in his suite. He reached for her hand and squeezed his thumb against her pulse. “You can choose to live. Or you can choose to perish. What do you choose, my dear?”

“Life,” Rose said. Her pulse throbbed under his thumb.

“Smart choice,” Damien said. “Let me show what you’ll get once you return.”

Damien led Rose to the apartment he had reserved for her and her mother: a white cube with floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the gleaming Atlantic. “You’ll be the first to see the sun rise,” he said. “And you’ll never have to think about the mainland again.”

At the time, she could barely believe that this life would be theirs. Erase everything that came before. Start fresh. Start anew.

Rose sets down Meyer’s book and looks out her bedroom window at the snow falling on the boughs of a pine tree. A small bird flits from branch to branch, refusing to settle in one place. She wonders what her mother will think of the Floating City with its gleaming malls and landscaped green spaces, the immense towers that look like they are in conversation with the heavens. But her mother may never want to see the ocean again, and this worries Rose. That what they’ve lost can’t be solved by simply replacing it.

The bird suddenly flaps its wings and takes off. She watches it arc into the sky until it disappears.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Camp Zero includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Michelle Min Sterling. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


In a near-future northern settlement, the fates of a young woman, a professor, and a mysterious collective of climate researchers collide in this mesmerizing and transportive debut novel.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Early on, the reader is introduced to a full cast of characters—why do you think the author wrote chapters from alternating points of view?

2. How would you characterize the tone of the story? How does the language contribute to the tone? What else contributes to it?

3. Compare the women of White Alice to the Blooms. Discuss their major similarities and differences.

4. Camp Zero is set in the near future—what is different about the world in the novel versus real life?

5. The Flick is a piece of technology embedded in humans from birth or a young age. Do you see the Flick as the evolution of a smartphone? How is it used in the story to keep socioeconomic classes divided?

6. The majority of the story takes place in northern Canada, with references to the New England area. While reading, did you find yourself imagining what life in the world of the novel might look like in southern areas of the world? Based on the information provided by the author, discuss what you think the rest of the world looks like in this version of 2049.

7. Power dynamics play a huge role throughout Camp Zero. The men appear to be in charge of the camp, it seems the researchers at White Alice are beholden to the government, and the Blooms answer firstly to Judith. Who ultimately has the power?

8. Discuss the many ways in which characters “reinvent” themselves in Camp Zero. Who succeeds, and who fails? What, in your opinion, does it mean to reinvent oneself in the context of this story? Does every character in this novel have the power/opportunity to self-invent? Which characters do, and which characters don’t? Is it a privilege or a right?

9. We see a few varying examples of motherhood and the mother/daughter relationship throughout Camp Zero, including those of Rose and her mother, the women of White Alice and Aurora, and eventually Judith to the Blooms. What role does motherhood play throughout the story, and why is it important to see these different dynamics?

10. Almost every character uses a pseudonym or is renamed during the story. What is the significance behind these new names? Were the reasons for these names the same for both the male and female characters?

11. Camp Zero features a number of sympathetic characters—including some who are complicit in harmful acts. While reading, did you find yourself drawn to any one character? Discuss your favorites and how they are portrayed.

12. Choose between the Floating City, White Alice, or Camp Zero—where would you live?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Explore some other titles that tackle climate change and tech, such as Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Ling Ma’s Severance, Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth, or Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. Discuss which world you would live in or what role you would have in these stories.

2. For your book club, enjoy this themed cocktail!

Adapted from Bon Appétit (

Base Camp Frosé—Makes 4 to 6 Servings

Choose your favorite rosé for freezing. (Tip: It will lose some of its color after freezing and blending; you might want to pick a fuller, darker rosé that can hold its own, just like Rose and the other women in the far north at Camp Zero!


1 750 ml bottle bold rosé (such as a pinot noir or merlot rosé)

½ cup sugar

8 ounces strawberries, tops removed and quartered

2–3 oz lemon juice


Step 1: Pour rosé into a 13"x9" pan, or whatever you’ve got, because we’re in survival mode here! Freeze until almost solid, or around 6 hours (it won't completely solidify due to the alcohol).

Step 2: Meanwhile, bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan; cook, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Add strawberries, remove from heat, and let sit 30 minutes to infuse syrup with strawberry flavor. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl (do not press on solids); cover and chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Step 3: Scrape rosé into a blender. Add lemon juice, 3½ ounces strawberry syrup, and 1 cup crushed ice and purée until smooth. If you want more strawberries, throw them in! Transfer blender jar to freezer and freeze until frosé is thickened (aim for milkshake consistency), 25–35 minutes.

Step 4: Blend again until slushy. Divide among glasses.

Prep: Rosé can be frozen 1 week ahead.

Make it alcohol free: Use sparkling apple juice or grape juice and reduce sugar to your liking!

3. For more information on Camp Zero and Michelle Min Sterling, visit

A Conversation with Michelle Min Sterling

Q: Camp Zero cleverly explores how the intersection of gender, class, and migration will impact who and what will survive in a warming world. What was your inspiration when you first sat down to write this novel?

A: I wanted to explore the climate crisis in a range of settings and perspectives, focusing on the themes of power, privilege, and work. I was inspired by a trip I made to northern Alberta to visit my cousin who was working as a pipe fitter in the oil industry. I was interested in exploring how this place might look in a future where cold is a commodity, as well as a varied cast of characters who are drawn to the north by their desire to forge a better future but separated by their privilege. In particular, I was drawn to a mother/daughter story as the emotional anchor of the novel, focusing on the relationship between a Korean immigrant mother and her daughter, Rose, who searches to find a place for herself and her mother in a compromised world.

Q: What was your research process like while writing Camp Zero?

A: I was interested in some of the historical precedent in the far north, particularly on former military projects spearheaded by the US and Canada. The most influential historical fact that made it in the book was the DEW Line, which was a massive building project in the far north of Canada during the Cold War period, where dozens of radar stations were built as a “distant early warning line” to detect Soviet bombers launched across the Arctic Circle toward North America. I read primary accounts of workers stationed in the DEW line stations and watched archival footage of the building project during the 1950s. For the Floating City, I learned about the offshore enclaves envisioned by libertarians and anarcho-capitalists who continue to dream of sovereign cities untethered from the nation-state. These places were reimagined for the speculative settings of the novel but rooted by the details of real life.

Q: There is such a rich cast of characters throughout the story. Was there one whose voice was the easiest to embody? What about the most difficult?

A: Writing the collective voice of White Alice came very easily. I wrote a large portion of their chapters during a long weekend spent in a coastal motel north of Boston during a dramatic nor’easter. It was winter, and my room had a view of the Atlantic crashing against the seashore. The days were short, and the nights were long, and that cabin-fever feeling of being stuck in one place felt very real. Once I chose their collective voice, their chapters flowed. In comparison, Grant was a character I labored on more. It took a long time to find the right balance in his characterization between being altruistic and morally questionable. Earlier versions of Grant depicted him more as a dubious character, and I knew that he’d have to endear himself to the reader first before revealing his shortcomings.

Q: Why did you choose to show stronger bonds forged between the female characters rather than the male ones? Why do you think this is important to show?

A: In the book, Rose thinks, “Power is never granted but seized,” and this can be read as a mantra for many of the female characters. I wanted to explore how agency and self-protection are experienced for the women in Camp Zero, and how they forge their own sense of accountability and justice in a world that is squared against them. This power, of course, is experienced differently depending on their personal contexts, and it was important to show that range. I was also interested in showing how women can become bonded by shared struggle, but with different, and occasionally devastating, consequences. Collective action is such an essential part of envisioning a better future, especially when grappling with the climate crisis, that it made sense to zoom in on the experiences of these women to speak to larger issues in society.

Q: As a writer, what do you hope readers take away from this story?

A: I want readers to think, feel, and be entertained by this story, and to see the future not only as testing ground for the present moment but as their personal legacy. My hope is that Camp Zero will offer readers a space to reflect on the best path forward for humanity in a world stratified by climate breakdown and income inequality. And I hope the book will open conversations on resource extraction and the environment, and how love, connection, and solidarity can create a brighter future.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?

A: My second novel! Similar to Camp Zero, it will use a speculative frame to touch upon the bonds of community and the complications of nationhood.

About The Author

Photograph by Benedicte Gyldenstierne Sehested

Michelle Min Sterling was born in British Columbia, Canada, and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She teaches literature and writing at Berklee College of Music, and has held fellowships at Akademie Schloss Solitude, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her writing has appeared in The Baffler and JoylandCamp Zero is her first novel.

Why We Love It

“Michelle Min Sterling’s Camp Zero is one of the most masterful debuts to ever cross my desk. Set in a near-future camp at the icy edge of the earth, the novel follows an unforgettable cast of characters whose paths converge in a brilliant twist of fate that will change everything. With its dazzling surprises, red-hot pacing, and remarkable world building, Camp Zero is an empowering and hope-filled story that heralds the coming of a groundbreaking new voice in literary fiction.”

—Natalie H., Senior Editor, on Camp Zero

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (April 4, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668007563

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Raves and Reviews

“[A] stunning debut . . . Sterling’s future is close enough to the present to be entirely recognizable, underlining this cleverly constructed climate fiction mystery with palpable terror: this world feels like one many readers could see within their lifetimes. This should earn a place on shelves alongside Station Eleven and Annihilation.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Sterling vividly renders a harrowing near-future world ravaged by climate change while still offering hope through human connection and perseverance.” Booklist

“Brilliantly unsettling…Camp Zero is compelling dystopian cli-fi with three-dimensional characters—a perfect read for fans of Station Eleven, To Paradise, and The Handmaid's Tale. The ending leaves the way open for a sequel. Bring it on.”—Shelf Awareness

“A gripping story about survival, with compelling characters and frightening plot twists that will keep you riveted.”—Real Simple

“A smart setup . . . The book has a soul that generates momentum. It’s committed to the bonds of family, the ones we are born into and the ones we choose, as a way forward in an increasingly chaotic world. A love letter to what communities of women can accomplish when they work in concert.” —Kirkus Reviews

Camp Zero is the thrilling, urgent feminist climate fiction that the world needs. With extraordinary world-building, captivating characters, and sharp commentary on climate change, technology, colonialism, capitalism, and the patriarchy, Michelle Min Sterling’s remarkable debut delivers its big ideas with suspense, endlessly surprising twists, and abundant heart.” —JESSAMINE CHAN, New York Times bestselling author of The School for Good Mothers  

“Camp Zero is a sui generis novel, boldly imagined, intricately designed, and convincingly detailed. Though set in the near future, it resonates with a palpable sense of reality and with the deep insights into some dimensions of the human condition, such as migrations, the burden of the past, environmental destruction, gender inequality, self-recreation. Page by page, the prose shines with subtle verbal artistry. This is groundbreaking literary work.” —HA JIN, National Book Award-winning author of Waiting

“In an equally tantalizing and terrifying tour de force, Michelle Min Sterling boldly remixes the realities of our present world, the danger we are in, and the fates we have settled for through a mesmerizing story of loyalty, deception, and ultimately love. Camp Zero’s dark twists and bright turns left me breathless, hopeful, furious, and emboldened until the very end.” —NANCY JOOYOUN KIM, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Story of Mina Lee

“Michelle Min Sterling reports back from the future in this fiercely imagined conjuring of the devastating impacts of our warming world. Alternately terrifying and enthralling, this is a propulsive read with touches of Blade Runner, even Fury Road’s survival-is-everything pace and intensity where female strength is on delightful display. But even on its darkest pages, Camp Zero is infused with the conviction that the way out—if there is one—lies in old ideas like love, bravery, and shared community.” —ERICA FERENCIK, author of Girl In Ice and The River at Night

“An exhilarating tale of survival set in a world of environmental decline, Camp Zero explores a future brimming with equal parts rage and resilience. Sterling’s masterful debut transports readers to a frozen landscape where the intersections of class, gender, and climate change come to a head—and where women must rely on their own cunning to survive. This powerful, prescient story will haunt the reader’s imagination long after the final page.” —LAURA MAYLENE WALTER, author of Body of Stars

“The future Michelle Min Sterling imagines in Camp Zero is recognizably our own, if we do nothing to halt climate change: one in which the powerful find new and devastating ways to exploit both the earth and its people. But all is not as it seems. In a series of ingenious twists and increasingly tight connections, Sterling imagines how, in the chaos that ensues after the ice caps melt, our most marginalized brethren may gain a foothold to power. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time: it’s mesmerizing, terrifying, and ultimately, hopeful.” —CAROLINE WOODS, author of The Lunar Housewife

“Michelle Min Sterling has written a big, gutsy, and clear-eyed novel of the near future that neither lurches with dread nor swoons with false hope: it's a cold, hungry adventure story about the power of choice and the strength of solidarity. You won't be able to put it down.” —SEAN MICHAELS, Giller Prize-winning author of Us Conductors

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