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Saturday, February 13, 2010
Order "Things We Didn't See Coming" HERE (Read Inside available)
Official Steven Amsterdam Website
INTRODUCTION: "Things We Didn't See Coming" is a book that I did not see coming so to speak. I just found out it by the mere chance of seeing a copy in the Fiction New Releases section of a B&N and picking it up since the cover was sort of interesting. Next I read the blurb and I thought, ok let me just open it though it's highly unlikely I will be interested since post-apocalyptic fiction is only very occasionally for me, but to my surprise I liked the first pages well enough to browse more and then I started getting mesmerized by its style; I got a copy the same day and the book turned to be another big positive surprise for 2010.
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:"Things We Didn't See Coming" is a sfnal collection of nine chronological stories that follow the unnamed narrator through the slow collapse of civilization starting with computers going haywire and the "interdependence" breaking down, continuing with a stark separation between "city people" and "rural folk", and then disasters due to rain, plague, drought, fires...
It stands at about 200 pages but it packs a lot, so I had the feeling I read a much longer book. Despite its seemingly gloom and doom content the book is entertaining and a very surprisingly pleasurable read. Quiet and with no dramatics, this is more literary sfnal fiction at its best.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Since the book consists of nine sequential episodes in the narrator's life that can also be read more or less independently being complete in themselves, I will follow my general story review format and give a short excerpt and analysis for each.
1:What We Know Now
For the first time, Dad is letting me help pack the car, but only because it’s getting to be kind of an emergency.
The narrator at 14 on New Year's Eve 1999-2000 and the beginning of the "troubles". The one pure mainstream story, it seems a later addition for the sake of completion but the last story connects back here and illuminates it.
2:The Theft That Got Me Here
The new pills seem to be helping. Her eyes droop less. Grandpa’s not optimistic, but that’s not news.
The narrator at 16 living with his grandparents in a city that's isolated by manned barricades from the countryside; when grandma has a lucid day and grandpa is depressed since the city is taking away his driving license, the three of them manage to escape the city and have a romp in the countryside; of course city folk are not welcomed there...
The true beginning of the book in many ways and partly comic, partly tragic but always excellent.
A rain horse is a horse that’s been sensitized to travel in downpours without complaint.
The best story of the book follows the narrator at 23 working for the "land management" agency that evacuates people from the countryside following months of continuous rain; when a mishap happens and he is forced to seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned house, he discovers a mother and daughter that want to be together more then they want to survive. Powerful and with a great twist ending.
Margo walked off this morning, as soon as the sun started warming up the ground, leaving me to dig up something else for us to eat.
The narrator is about 26 now in the first of the 3 Margo stories that follow his relationship with a practical girl who is willing to do anything to survive and prosper in the "new world"; here, they are hiding in a desert-like scape after they left the city following a plague, when an infected man happens upon their tent, while Margo had gone on a trek in the morning with their only gun.
5:Uses for Vinegar
That could only be her.
Set some 2-3 years later in a burnt out town, the narrator is a bureaucrat dealing with the relocation of the dispossessed folk there when Margo and her current boyfriend appear; still "in love" with her, the narrator is willing to follow Margo away, but is she coming or not?
6:The Forest for the Trees
I’m on the terrace of the main campus, in a recliner doing my work, the screen propped on my lap, my shirt off.
Several more years passed and now there is some resemblance of order; a rich girl turned politician and Senator representing a large part of the country becomes the narrator's and Margo's latest patron...
These three stories are the heart of the collection and they are all superb though they lack the power of "Dry Land" to some extent; the narrator has to answer the question: what price is he willing to pay for survival and for love?
All I did was ask Jeph if he would help collect branches for a roof repair today.
Narrator at 36, weary of the world and taking refuge in an isolated commune as security specialist and guardian of the only child alive there, the 14 year old teen Jeph; the first of three shorter, vignette-like stories that deal more with moral questions than with the narrator's place in the world at large; plague, privatized medicine with cures for the cash payers, long waiting lists for the rest; a good story but less polished than the previous ones.
8:The Profit Motive
This is an era of violence.
Several more years passed and now there is another attempt at rebuilding the civilization after a truce in the local wars was "signed"; still idealistic, the narrator goes to ask for a position to help bring normality back and he has to take a test that quickly becomes weirder and weirder; another superb twist ending, but the story would have benefited by being slightly longer.
I leave them badgering the nurse in the cafeteria. All I want is to appreciate the volcano alone, without the whole needy-crowd thing.
The narrator at 40, running a small business as a private tour guide for the terminally ill; here we get more background and a connection with the beginning, while the ending is another superb one.
All in all "Things We Didn't See Coming" is a gem of a book that will stay with you for a long time and I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants an interesting but a bit unusual book that is very well written and has an endearing narrator who never loses his humanity despite all that happens.
12:04 AM | Posted by Liviu | | Edit Post