Read Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam Online

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It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions. The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain lIt’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions. The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather. In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine. ...

Title : Things We Didn't See Coming
Author :
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ISBN : 9781740667012
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 174 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Things We Didn't See Coming Reviews

  • Warwick
    2018-12-08 03:07

    I don't have a particularly good relationship with post-apocalyptic fiction, tending to find it either too far-fetched or, if not far-fetched, too depressing to want to immerse myself in for very long. I was spoiled early by having to read Robert Swindells's relentlessly bleak postnuclear misery-fest Brother in the Land for a school English class, after which I spent much of the next few years lying awake at night worrying that the noise of jumbo jets coming over Gatwick's flight path might in fact be the noise of a nuclear wind rushing towards our house. Thanks Miss Cutler.Of course it's useful (necessary, even) to be scared by these ideas once or twice – but once you've got to grips with the basic principles, I'm not always sure the lessons learned are worth the emotional trauma involved. Which is what these books try and put you through, because despite the tone of some of my reviews I'm actually not a very critical reader – I tend to be pretty wide-eyed and immersive when it comes to fiction.More generally, though, I think the genre suffers disproportionately from the prevailing fallacy that tragedy is somehow ‘truer’ than comedy. (Which some critics genuinely believe, not without reason, but which I don't.) This is why for example I am in no great hurry to read The Road, because although I often love Cormac McCarthy's writing style, I think his general philosophy depends on wilfully ignoring huge vistas of human experience and interaction – which is creatively interesting, but when it comes right down to it, no less selective a vision than that of someone like Terry Pratchett.All of this is my way of saying that I liked Things We Didn't See Coming a lot more than I expected to when a cute sales assistant in a Melbourne branch of Readers flirted me into buying it ‘because the author's a local’. Actually Steven Amsterdam is originally from New York, but Melbourne has been his home for years now: the landscape of this book feels vaguely American, but the language includes some telltale non-US elements (like ‘Mum’). It begins on the eve of the millennium, and disappears off into an alternative present / near-future where society and the environment have broken down.The book is constructed as a novel-in-short-stories, a format I like anyway and one which works especially well here. In nine standalone chapters, we see our unnamed narrator at different stages in his life, from a ten-year-old boy to a semi-invalid, prematurely-aged wasteland survivor. There is a lot of enjoyable speculation to be had over what must have happened in the long years between chapters, as secondary characters come and go, and as the world around us changes: we see at various times endless rain, urban looting, rural survivalism, drought, plague, even momentary periods of political stability with a decadent ruling class. The prose is sparse, uncomplicated and effective, and a lot of the key developments are unexplained and off-stage.I like that the geopolitical/environmental speculation is not the main point here. What Amsterdam is really interested in is how interpersonal relationships work, how trust breaks down and whether it can ever be properly built up under extreme circumstances, and how to work out what really matters and strip down your life to just that. There is a nice strain of dark humour running through the book, and although it takes a steady look at the worst aspects of human nature, it doesn't forget the other aspects.Only one of the stories felt underdeveloped to me; all of them completely held my attention and left me with lots to think about. Recommended for late-night reading under Gatwick flight path.

  • MaryG2E
    2018-12-07 06:49

    This is a thought-provoking, clever book, rather serious and grim, but with occasional flashes of humour. In 2009 it won The Age Book of the Year prize for fiction.The story revolves around the survival over several decades of an individual following a global disaster. Although the type of disaster is not disclosed, I deduced that it was an enormous natural cataclysm, which, over time, disrupts the weather, destroys the earth and shatters societies. Food shortages lead to starvation and lawlessness. Epidemic and endemic diseases decimate populations, governments struggle to maintain any semblance of order…The plot develops over nine chapters, at different phases of the narrator’s life, from his teenage years through to age 40. The various stages describe changes in his lifestyle as he tries to adapt to constantly changing conditions, and at the same time document changes in his inner self. Although he is basically a decent person, the conditions under which he lives lead the narrator into all sorts of dubious moral conundrums. He is resourceful and a survivor, definitely likeable, despite some dubious actions and the appalling circumstances of his life.One key aspect of Amsterdam’s post-apocalyptic vision intrigued me in particular. In the wake of world-wide disaster, the government plays an important role in peoples’ lives. Although there are some individuals living beyond the pale, as would be expected, the society is definitely not anarchic. Indeed the narrator spends many years as a government employee working in rescue and rehabilitation positions. My mind was occupied for ages around the issue of geography in this book. Although born in the US, Amsterdam has been resident in Australia for many years. So I was intrigued by the narrow confines of his dysfunctional world. I felt that without a doubt he located the disaster somewhere within the contiguous United States. But there is no sense of whether it affected the entire planet. And that got my back up because I get really annoyed with the blinkered vision of Americans that their country IS the world, and that any disaster that falls within their boundaries is viewed as world-wide (meantime people could be happily going about their daily lives unaffected in Shanghai or Shepparton!!) Certainly the absence of any geographical reality contributes to a sense of claustrophobia in the narrative. The government is an eminence grise, with no references given to Washington or the UN or similar.This book is not going to appeal to all tastes. It is a serious contribution to the body of dystopian literature, and so would resonate with readers who appreciated The Road, although it is nowhere near as grim as that remarkable book. The later chapters, as the earth healed and society re-organised felt reminiscent to me of William Gibson’s Sprawl. Like Gibson’s writing, the book is packed with clever imaginings about what a post-apocalyptic world might look like, and what sorts of activities the survivors might engage in…4★s

  • Ed Bernard
    2018-12-12 08:52

    Actually 4.5 stars, but decided to round up>An interesting book structurally, this “novel” is actually 9 stories featuring the same narrator, each separated by a few years, each taking place in a increasingly dystopian future. We witness his relationship with his parents, his grandparents, his highly destructive girlfriend, and also see him move from job to job in a post-apocalyptic world – in one, he rides through the countryside on a horse, helping/convincing people to leave their homes as Biblical floods destroy their worlds; in another, he works as an adventure travel guide for the dying. The writing is spare, the gaps are many, so we have to fill in the parts of the story the author leaves out – he simply drops us into a time and place, lets us figure out what’s happening, then moves on to the next chapter. The result is highly episodic, but also mesmerizing, and very moving. The author is a palliative/psychiatric nurse living in Australia, and the empathy and compassion of the main character simply refuses to be buried, even as he does some awful things and hints at even worse. I thought the book was a wonderful, and very successful, experiment that I thoroughly enjoyed.

  • Liviu
    2018-12-10 02:01

    From my FBC review,a discussion of the each story with the first sentence or so excerpted: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's 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.3:Dry Land"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 more to be together than to survive...Powerful and with a great twist ending4:Cake Walk"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 the narrator's relationship with a practical girl that is willing to do anything to survive and prosper in the "new world"; in this one they hide in a desert-like scape after they left the city following a plague, when an infected man happens upon their hidden tent, while Margo went 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 burnout town, the narrator is a bureaucrat dealing with relocation of the dispossessed folk there, when Margo and her current boyfriend appear; still "in love" with her, the narrator is willing to follow her away from there, 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 in many ways and they are all superb too, 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/relationship?7:Pre­dis­posed"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 asking for 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, more vignette-like stories that deal more with moral questions than with the narrator's place in the world at large; more 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 imposed; still idealistic the narrator goes to ask for a position to help and 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 too.9:Best Medicine"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 oneAll 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

  • Emily
    2018-11-22 01:54

    I think I didn't get this book. The concept of moving through time so quickly for each chapter wasn't so much interesting as distracting. I kept turning the pages back wondering what happened in between and where the other characters suddenly went. What the hell happened in the years between chapter 4 and 5? How old is the narrator now? Who the hell are these people??I ended up just floating through the narrative, not really interested but not totally disinterested. It was short and I got through it quick but after it was finished I didn't feel any sort of attachment to the book. Overall I don't think I liked it very much. As far as post apocalyptic stories go, it was definitely one of the least interesting I've read. Because of all the jumping it made the plot harder to understand and I had absolutely no idea what was going on with the world half the time. Did everyone die? Was there nuclear war? What's this disease going around mentioned in one of the chapters? Why in the last chapter is the narrator leading dying people around a volcano? It's more questions then answers and ultimately, didn't end up being that interesting.

  • Dinelle Hettiarachchi
    2018-11-18 03:53

    A thought-provoking read that really highlights the uncertainty in our world.

  • Traci
    2018-11-30 03:59

    In an attempt to take a break from my normal reading fare (i.e., more paranormal stuff), I decided to run through my I-want-to-read-this-someday-down-the-road list and see if anything looked good. This seemed to fit the bill - definitely not supernatural, and short to boot. I placed my reserve and when it came, I checked it out thinking I might eventually get around to it.It didn't take long to start reading it, and once I started, I found I couldn't stop. There's something about this book, something that compelled me to keep reading. It's an odd format - nine "stories" that are more like snapshots of the narrator's life at different times over 30 years. Luckily, the stories appear sequentially, so there's no jumping around in time. But it's still strange to read about someones life like this; I found myself wondering how he got to where he was in each story. It's stories without background, if you will. And you never do learn the name of the narrator, so he could be just about anyone. The scenes follow the narrator after the world takes a complete nose-dive on New Year's Eve, 1999. Remember the whole Y2K fiasco? Well, in this book, the fearful were absolutely right to worry - the planet evidently cannot survive the transition to the year 2000. The narrator is taken to his grandparents house by his parents, his mother being a naysayer and his father being a true believer. Obviously, this will cause problems down the road for his parents, and indeed, when he visits them in later stories, they are no longer together. His grandparents make an appearance again in one of the stories (one of the more touching entries), along with crazy weather, the flu-like plague (which reminded me quite of bit of Stephen King's Captain Trips illness from "The Stand"), and other challenges the narrator faces.It's a strange work, but the point is, it works. I thought the character development was quite good considering that it's not done in the typical fashion; I wanted to find out if the narrator was going to survive. I also thought some of the peripheral characters were interesting and well-done, too, no small feat when they make such short appearances. It's a good little book, and I truly believed that some of this gloom-and-doom world could happen. I'm curious to see what Amsterdam does next.

  • Schnaucl
    2018-11-29 03:42

    Three and a half stars.This is a first novel, but I would not have guessed that if I hadn't read the book jacket. The writing is polished with a nice flow.The book is really snapshots of the main character's life as the world goes to hell (and maybe rebuilds?). The first chapter takes place when the main character is 10 years old and his father is convinced that Y2K will destroy civilization as we know it so he bundles up his family and drives them to his wife's parents' farm in the country on New Year's Eve. I actually thought that was a terrific start and I would love to see that premise made into a book on its own, or at least a longer short story.The book then jumps ahead about 5 years and the landscape of the world has changed dramatically. Why? We don't know. We just know that it has. That's the frustration I had with much of the book. There are all these changes in civilization, government, environment, infrastructure, etc. and we're never really given an explanation for why that is. Did Y2K really happen? If so that sort of explains this next story with the character at 15, but why would it cause monsoon like weather which happens in a later chapter. And how are they making all these pills/medicines by the end of the book?Anyway. The chapter where the main character is 15 is a beautifully told story that actually focuses more on the relationship between the grandparents he stayed with on New Year's Eve. That by itself would have made a wonderful short story.The chapter with all the rain would also have made a wonderful short story.The problem is that many of the chapters aren't quite long enough to be a short story and various characters appear and disappear without cause or explanation. The only way you know they're gone is that the narrator no longer mentions them in subsequent chapters.I can't help feeling that Amsterdam took this disjointed approach so he wouldn't really have to explain how the world went to hell, the reader is just supposed to accept that it has. Nor does he really have to explore relationships if characters don't really stick around. Still, it was an enjoyable read and aside from the fact that the chapters felt disjointed, the writing, pacing, and dialog were all very well done.

  • S'hi
    2018-11-21 08:56

    Inspired to read Steven Amsterdam’s prize winning novel again after hearing him at a recent reading. A master of succinct images which suddenly propel the action in new directions, that evening Steven transformed the energy of the room in an instant. Things We Didn’t See Coming was originally a series of short stories. The publishers were ready to try something different, and liking Steven’s writing suggested that he bring the pieces together a little more to make a single narrative through what could still be read as separate stories if one chose. It makes it a very interesting narrative for this fluidity of interpretation to provide layers of place and time as well as perception by the reader through the various characters.There is an economy in his style which makes a single sentence have the impact of lectures, libraries or eons of relationship. One example: “It hits me that I’ve never seen them both walk away from me.”The altered relationship brought on by environmental changes and gradual maturity suddenly hits and ricochets into the audience. The energy reverberates through the following explanatory paragraph. Youth does not see age approaching. Despite a father’s warnings, the holocaust which comes is not what anyone planned for. Every relationship has its own twists and turns of holding on and pushing away.Even the officials are testing the degree to which adjustments are made to circumstances rather than keeping hard and fast rules of obedience. Nothing is certain when unspoken values arise above behaviours. A compelling writer well worth reading a few times for the rhythm of the writing itself.

  • Aine
    2018-12-02 07:56

    I've always been fascinated by dystopian books. What would happen if our societal agreements fell away and we each had to fight for our survival."Things we didn't see coming" chronicles episodes from the life of a young man coping with "a new climate" and the break down of society as we know it. Beginning with his father's fear of the Millennium Bug, our narrator continues with tales of how developments impact on his relationships. He helps his grandparents take an illicit drive to the countryside, he clears homes on the new flood plains of their owners, he works within and outside the law carving out his own moral code as he goes. The prose are stark and purposeful, honest and brutal. Almost all of the book is narrated and so we rely on our protagonist to illustrate the unfamiliar environment. The tiniest flaw, for me, is that the protagonist in Dry Land appears slightly at odds with his character in the other tales - maybe an age-related bravado or maybe a glitch that doesnt really matter at all. I read this book in less than two days and would readily read more if I could.

  • Librariasaurus
    2018-11-18 07:51

    This is one of the shortest books I've read in a while but it has taken me the longest amount of time to read. I struggled with the concept, is it short stories about different characters or chapters of the one characters life through the different stages of post-millennium apocalyptic turmoil? I didn't feel there was a unifying factor that brought all the stories together in the end apart from there possibly being a veiled examination of the life cycle (birth, life and death) running underneath the main narrative. I loved apocalypse stories and whilst I didn't love this book as a whole, I did quite enjoy the various types of apocalypse Amsterdam examined, the endless rain in Dry Land was a particularly fascinating apocalypse as was the seemingly pro-polygamy society in The Forest for the Trees. My favourite story though due to its almost personally effecting narrative was The Theft That Got Me Here. The characterisation in this story is beautiful and heart-breaking.

  • Andrew
    2018-11-18 08:01

    Upon initial inspection, this seems like an collection of short speculative fiction, exploring possible future societies (or the collapse thereof). However, as one reads this book, one becomes intensely aware of a distinct progression - a progression of the human consciousness, through various stages of one's life, regardless of the circumstances that one lives with. The dilemmas faced by the protagonist echo those present in our everyday (i.e. non-apocalyptic) lives. And also a progression of society - the consequential ends-of-days that society may face if we continue down our current path.

  • Tom O’Connell
    2018-12-13 09:04

    I would say Steven Amsterdam is one of my favourite Australian writers, but he was born and raised in America and I’m not sure which country he prefers to align himself with. Nevertheless, he shot up my list of favourite contemporary authors on the strength of his – in my opinion, criminally underrated – second novel, What the Family Needed, (my review of which can be found here).Things We Didn’t See Coming, Amsterdam’s debut, caused a minor stir when it was published in 2009 by the then-fledgling independent publisher, Sleepers. The novel – and I use the term loosely; more on this later – received wide critical acclaim, and marked both Amsterdam and Sleepers as ones to watch.Like its follow-up, Things We Didn’t See Coming is presented as a series of quests or episodes. Instead of chapters we have interconnected (though also self-contained) stories, some of which reference and build upon earlier instalments. It’s an unconventional way to write a novel – if this is, in fact, a novel (Junot Diaz’s seminal This is How You Lose Her follows a similar structure, though identifies itself as a short story collection). Whether Things We Didn’t See Coming is a novel or short story collection is largely a matter of semantics, and I didn’t dwell on it.The story follows an unnamed protagonist from one hood to another (child to adult, that is) while looking at the way civilisation transitions after an unspecified (possibly Y2K-related?) apocalyptic event. Unlike in your typical apocalypse story, civilisation in this story endures, rather than collapses. There’s poverty, sickness and a return to living off the land, but this is not the scorched, uninhabitable landscape of King’s The Stand or McCarthy’s The Road. Though survival and desperation play their parts, I would say this book is more about the protagonist’s desire to find purpose, and to live a rich, spiritually (though not religiously) fulfilling life. It’s neither depressing, nor sentimental, but it is life-affirming. While civilisation hasn’t collapsed, it has regressed back to basics and, without the encumbrance of old fixed societal hierarchies, our protagonist – and humanity at large – is forced to redefine the reasons for carrying on.Of course, these issues aren’t handled heavy-handedly; in fact, for an apocalypse story, Things We Didn’t See Coming is a surprisingly fun read. Despite unmentionable hardships, the characters never become bogged down in their own melancholia. Even in the protagonist’s pettiest moments, he displays an underlying grace and strength, which made him worth rooting for.It also helps that Amsterdam’s prose sparkles with assurance. It helps keep things buoyant, as does the lively cast of secondary characters (Juliet, Jeph and the ever-spirited Margo). Amsterdam seamlessly combines the sensibilities of both popular and literary fiction. He presents classic literary tropes, such as the exploration of the human condition, in a light and entertaining manner. He’s not necessarily a comic writer, but his stories are expertly paced and free of filler.Having said all that, I have a major grievance to share. The episodic structure, which worked so well in What the Family Needed, felt horribly disjointed here. I give credit for the unconventional presentation, but such experiments should enhance the narrative to justify existing. The only purpose this episodic structure served was to provide Amsterdam easy outs whenever he wrote himself into a corner. I try to assess books on their own merits and with an open mind; I’m not opposed to this episodic structure on principle – as I said, it worked wonders in What the Family Needed. My issue here is that Amsterdam resolutely refused to elucidate the nature of the apocalypse or the parameters of the world. Again, not a problem in and of itself; The Road follows a similar tact, whereby McCarthy deliberately withholds details about why the world has changed. In that book, and in this one, the reader is expected to take things as they are, despite the lack of explanations. It works a treat in The Road because, really, the history of the world doesn’t matter; it’s not the heart of that story.The narrative in Things We Didn’t See Coming shifts at every interval. It’s not just that the world and main character develop in secret during the gaps between stories; it’s that whole plotlines are disregarded as quickly as they’re introduced. Every event in this book is rendered irrelevant by the proceeding story. Now, I’m not a finicky reader; I don’t need closure to enjoy a story. My favourite form, the short story, is often famously open-ended, but I do have my limits. Though enjoyable to read about, the world in Things We Didn’t See Coming felt thin and ill-defined. Instead of one comprehendible apocalyptic event, the world goes through many changes: floods, droughts, viral outbreaks, war of the classes, spikes in theft, oppressive governments, and more. It’s like Amsterdam wasn’t sure what tact to take, so he took them all. Individually, each thread is compelling, but none are given any follow-through. It’s difficult to invest in a situation when everything will inevitably be thrown to the wind come the next story. To make matters worse, the stories are only ever twenty-odd pages long, yet it takes up to six for the reader to find their bearings (‘The Forest for the Trees’ and ‘The Profit Motive’ were particularly obtuse).All up, the lack of concrete answers proved too much for me. In What the Family Needed, chapters shifted to accommodate different characters’ perspectives. Sometimes the previous character’s arc was left open or unresolved, but characters recurred – or made cameos – in subsequent stories, so I was never left frustrated. In Things We Didn’t See Coming, the protagonist’s relationships with Margo and his father were about the only arcs with any sort of resolution – and neither was particularly satisfying. I really think this book would’ve worked better had it been a series of contrasting apocalypse stories featuring different characters and situations, though set in the same world. I would’ve found it more palatable had I not been positioned to expect cohesiveness and traceable character development.I don’t mean for this to sound overly negative: there was a lot to enjoy about Things We Didn’t See Coming. I suppose my own expectations are ultimately what let me down. Still, this is only Amsterdam’s debut; it’s unfair that I should hold it to the standard of his later work. This book is certainly worth checking out if you want a unique take on apocalypse stories.

  • Cassie Langridge
    2018-12-07 07:44

    This is one of the books I picked up from the lovely people at Vintage when I was doing work experience there. It appealed to me first of all because of the title. Fucking awesome title. It’s potentially a good title for my life. I have several books with titles that appear as though they could be heading up a list, so I guess it’s a device that I dig right now. Others of mine include: True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies and And This Is True by Emily Mackie. It’s also post-apocalyptic, which earns massive points for me, too.This tale is set in an alternate future where the Y2K bug really did take hold and led to the collapse of society. Told through a series of vignettes, rather than a cohesive narrative, the narrator goes from a young boy to a middle-aged man, with gaps of several years between each chapter, and the reader is offered a brief snapshot of what course his life is taking. Throughout the vignettes, we are introduced to different people he encounters such as his parents, his girlfriend Margo and a mysterious hyper-sexual employer, Juliet.The narrator, who remains un-named (unless I missed it) muddles and scrambles his way through life from day to day, year to year, with no real plan. Sometimes he talks his way into situations or ends up stealing in order to survive. Lots of thriftiness in this novel. His life seems to be a series of near-misses with both dangerous situations and with potential relationships. There is also an underlying exploration into the blurry lines between right and wrong. Our protagonist is fairly amoral as a person, and does what he needs to in order to survive, but he is not without mercy or kindness sometimes. Everyone he encounters also seems to operate in this way, and maybe there is no place for right or wrong in this new world.Steven Amsterdam is sparse with his words and descriptions, which I enjoyed. I like to imagine what has occurred to cause this apocalypse, and the few details he does give away are enough to tell you that things are bad. Natural disasters and cancers blaze their way across the country, and stability as we know it appears to be a thing of the past. I usually prefer more detail with my post-apocalyptic scenarios, but this was executed very well.At one point the narrator sits down to watch Robocop and laughs heartily at all the wrong predictions for the future, which is interesting. Amsterdam’s predictions for his potential future are much more realistic and pretty chilling. His world is one where people find it difficult or impossible to put down roots, as they’ll simply have to move on again. Relationships, too, are an outmoded form of cohesion – the narrator and his girlfriend can only sign an affirmation of their relationship once every eighteen months; no more lifetime marriage contracts.His vision of the future is unsettling and bleak. It is a world that I wouldn’t want to inhabit, and maybe that’s the reason I came away from this feeling a little unsatisfied. His final chapter includes a reunion with his father, which at first seemed hopeful, but now I’m not so sure. That's all I have to say about this one for now. Maybe shouldn't have read the last fifty pages with sleeping pills in my system, but it seemed appropriate, somehow.

  • The Blurb Radio Show
    2018-12-04 04:05

    Steven Amsterdam's "Things we didn't see coming" is a series of scenes from a future where an event (only vaguely hinted at) has caused societal collapse. We never find out the name of the central character who is the storyteller - beginning from the eve of the event, where he is a child - age unclear. Each chapter is a new point in time, describing life in a chaotic world, with challenges ranging from lack of water, to ceaseless rain, to disease, to pestilence. There are times of luxury too, as the storyteller finds protection with the powerful people of the age. The bleakest part of the story is the nature of the relationships the character has with the people around him - all characterised by a lack of trust. The book is well described, the world, the characters, the dialogue all appear clearly in this reader's mind. Even though I found the central character hard to like, I still felt on his side through knowing him as an innocent child and witnessing the moral struggle each scene puts before him. I read it because it was on the State Library of Victoria's "Summer Read" list this year and the title sounded interesting.While this wasn't a pleasant story, it was a compelling one, and would be a great discussion starter for a book group, particularly for people interested in what the future may hold and how we might choose to respond in incredible adversity. I was also reminded that while the societal collapse described in the novel is fiction, there are places in our world today where it is a lived experience.

  • Paul Weimer
    2018-12-09 03:51

    I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Pantheon Books.Steven Amsterdam is a native New Yorker working in Melbourne, Australia. Things we didn't see coming is this ex-pat's collection of linked short stories in an alternate history where things after Y2k went a little...wrong. AThe protagonist is never named either, and we follow him and the world for years after Y2k's troubles (and more troubles in the course of the stories) have led to a post-apocalyptic environment, with central authority alternatively inept and overly restrictive. The protagonist tries to make his way in a world far more mixed up than ours. Internal evidence suggests that about 25 years passes during the course of the stories.Amsterdam's stories are a good example of mundane science fiction. The only real speculative element is the fact that this is an alternate history and future, where Y2k went far worse than in our world. Other than that, this fiction is purely literary in nature, style and tone.I didn't quite find the style to my taste. It felt too minimalist, too narrow for my reading pleasure. Not enough speculation in the science fiction. From a dispassionate point of view, the stories are very well written and fit together well. Mundane SF fans as well as those who normally hate SF but want a small element of the speculative in their reading will highly enjoy Steven Amsterdam's collection.

  • Ocker Hazelbag
    2018-12-08 05:55

    Things we didn´t see coming was recommended to me by my sister. At first, I didn’t really know what to expect from the novel. I had never heard of Steven Amsterdam and when I read the back of the novel, it seemed quite exciting, but vague as well. When I started reading chapter 1, I found the novel quite boring, because there didn’t happen much. But chapter 2 slowly was way more appealing to me and I thought I was really going to like the novel. But I didn’t have a clue at the beginning of chapter 3 what was going happening in the narrator’s live. I slowly started understanding the chapter, after re-reading it a few times. I had this problem at the beginning of most of the chapters and at some chapters, I still didn’t understand what was going on after re-reading the beginning a few times. All nine chapters are little novels themselves, which are connected together, because they have the same narrator. I didn’t like the way the chapters were put together, because I found them too short and when I just started to get into the chapter, another one began. I would recommend this novel to people who like books with themes like surviving and apocalypse. You also have to be quick-witted, because the characters, places and the conditions change a lot. I give Things we didn´t see coming 3/5 stars.

  • David
    2018-11-26 03:10

    I finished reading Steven Amsterdam's Things We Didn't See Coming a few days ago, and I was very glad. The book is nine stories loosely set in a similar post-apocalyptic future, and most of them are quite downbeat, depressing, and cynical in their takes on human nature. Worse, the future that Amsterdam envisions is somewhere between statist and totalitarian, but the amazing part is that the people living in it don't rebel at all against it. The presumption is that all purpose and sense of morality is subsumed into those things that the State provides - and of course what the state giveth, the state can taketh away. I could imagine JMS's Psi-corps coming out of this environment - "the corps is mother, the corps is father." The settings for the stories are a little fuzzy, but my impression is England, but that isn't a strong impression. On a positive note, Amsterdam's prose is quite pretty. It's unfortunate that he doesn't have much to say. Not recommended.

  • Jess
    2018-12-13 07:09

    This was story was told in a very disconnected, episodic style that didn't work for me. I get that the disconnection between the times in the narrator's life were reflective of how difficult it was to maintain continuity in relationships in the apocalyptic world...but the details were so sparsely filled in about everything that it just struck me as lazy storytelling. It seemed like instead of bothering to come up with answers about how the apocalypse came about and its repercussions, the author just threw about vague natural disasters and political upheavals as reasons for the constant shuffling around of the narrator, without grounding of the action in any place. And instead of bothering to resolve difficult circumstances or relationships, the author just cut off the story and resumed it at an indeterminate later time, giving the narrator no opportunity to reflect on the situations that had changed him. Overall it was an unsatisfying read.

  • Mel Campbell
    2018-11-20 08:44

    An odd book. I wasn't sure what to expect and it took me some time to acclimatise (pun intended) to its episodic structure. I'm used to spending an entire story in one particular set of 'poc circumstances so it threw me to see that the stakes were constantly changing for our nameless hero. (It also took me a while to figure out it was the same protagonist at different periods in his life.) I was frustrated not to be given more detail about any of these epochs, instead having to dwell in their deliberate blurriness. But this probably says more about my having been trained to expect copious world-building by the science fiction and fantasy books that luxuriate in grim 'poc survivalism.There's plenty here to psychoanalyse but it's also easy to read (tore through it in a few hours) and I found the ending unexpectedly optimistic. Well, now I can say I have read a key text in the 'Oz cli-fi' genre.

  • John
    2018-11-27 03:08

    I finished this in just over a day. The structure was quite good in that we get well spaced out vignettes of the (a touch pretentiously) unnamed protagonist, leaving us with a good chunk of filling in to do along the way.My main criticism though is that the book is too short. It covers roughly 30 years of a post-apocalyptic society but you never really get to know any of the people that make up the world. Even the protagonist is lightly sketched and develops little over the course of the novel(la).It reminded me a lot of 'Station 11' another book that suffered from not quite doing enough with an interesting concept.I would recommend it, but I did feel that this could have been great instead of just good.

  • Hannah
    2018-12-11 08:53

    Edit: I re-rated it one star because 2 stars is honestly too high for this book.The whole structure of this book annoys me. For the first half of the book, between each chapter is extremely confusing. It's impossible to know what is going on, until you reach the end and get a general picture. Also, the main character's name is never revealed, which annoyed me a lot. Personally I think this plot is better for a short film with no words, just visuals, to display a vision of the "future".

  • Tiffany
    2018-12-10 05:53

    This was a very confusing, non linear story... or should I say series of short stories about the same narrator that didn't really connect. None of them really came to a conclusion either, like several random chapters from a series of books about the same guy.

  • Romany
    2018-12-04 08:08

    I don't usually like short stories, but these dystopian future tales, each set in the same universe, were exceptionally compelling.

  • Kyra
    2018-12-16 08:49

    Choppy and not enough character development. Didn't flow well for me.

  • Donna
    2018-12-14 01:45

    Unexpected little page-turner gem. This has been a great afternoon.

  • Linene
    2018-11-22 05:09

    I am. A huge fan of this genre, and was very excited to read short stories about it. However, these stories fell short of having any depth to them.

  • Phine Hazelbag
    2018-12-12 06:57

    The writing is so good and clever. I loved the characters. I just loved this book.

  • Steve Coates
    2018-12-18 03:45

    Yeah! Loved the writing in this post-apocalyptic dystopia. Shades of Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood and George Saunders, the darkness lightened with black humour.

  • John Luiz
    2018-11-27 08:10

    Except for the great Mad Max movies, films and books about post-apocalyptic, dystopias aren't normally my cup of tea. I'd prefer to read about how characters deal with familiar problems in recognizable situations not too far removed from my own. But I can say I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of linked stories about a world that's come apart after a Y2K meltdown. Some reviews have noted the fact that the book doesn't have a table of contents indicates the author intends these stories to be more a novel than a collection. They do feature the same unnamed narrator, dealing with different crises at various stages of his life. But the novel or collection debate quickly becomes irrelevant because it's such a a great read. My joy in the book resulted from how well the relationships are portrayed. Right from the outset you feel sympathy for the young boy who's trying to stand by his worrywart father while his mother, who he prefers to call by her first name instead of "Mom," has had about all she can take of her husband's fears, which surprisingly prove entirely too well-founded. After the first story, in the dystopian world the family falls apart - each going their separate ways. Unlike a science fiction novel, this book doesn't expend a lot of energy explaining the exact details of this new world, such as the oppressive government that runs it or how the old world order broke down, or even the exact location of where the events take place. I assume it starts off in the United States because the family is listening on the radio to a New Year's celebration from London before the cataclysmic midnight hour has hit for them. There are references to socialistic-sounding governments, and Barricades that go up and down between the cities and rural areas. But most of the geographic references are only the most general - the North, the South, the West, the Coast, the desert. The plagues - floods, viruses, food shroateges, explosions - are specific, with great portrayals of their impact on the people left behind. Interestingly, while early on they do not seem to have electricity, in later stories they have computers. The one interesting twist is that while the society seems fairly backward without a lot of modern, pre Y2K amenities, the one major advance is in medicine and the development of drugs that can cure just about anything. What's great is that the unnamed narrator has tremendous survival instincts, but he's no Hollywood-esque macho hero. He's scrawny, out-of-shape, at times embittered, and a kind of doormat for his main love - Margo, who shows up in three of the stories. It's interesting to see his constantly shifting perspective from a loyal-to-his dad pre-teen, to a troublesome teenager, to a cynical twentysomething, to an idealistic young man, and then when he's at forty and very sick, looking for some reconciliation in his life. He's a worthy companion over the course of his travails. And there's a rather awe-inspiring inventiveness at work in the creation of all the new and varied tribulations he has to endure in this beleaguered world. The nine stories/chapters in the book are: 1. What We Know Now - 22 pp - A man believes the world's excessive "interdependence" will come crashing down with the advent of Y2K, so he packs up provisions from his apartment and takes his wife and son on New Year's Eve 1999 to his in-laws' country house. His wife and in-laws are skeptics and concerned about his excessive worrying, but they still play along. The only one on his side is his young son, the narrator. 2. The Theft That Got Me Here - 23 pp - The narrator is now 17. Whatever meltdown must have occurred after Y2K, the world is now socialist and, at least in the countryside, heavily Christian. People were forced to choose between living in a rural or an urban environment. The former suburbs are now a wasteland and there's a guarded barricade separating the city/country divide. The protagonist, after getting into some trouble, is asked to stay with his grandparents in their now urban home. But they want to sneak to back to the country. The grandmother has been suffering from Alzheimers' but in a lucid moment, she manages to persuade the barricade guards to let the three of them through. As city-folk driving a small, not big, car, they're immediately recognized as not being "rurals" and they're attacked with a bombardment of the abundant food the rurals have. Joining their grandson's new lawlessness, the grandparents partner with him to steal water and a big car and consider staying in the country, on the lam, permanently. 3. Dry Land - 23 pp - The country lands are overtaken with floods. The narrator, now 23, works for the government in Land Management, forcing people to leave their homes before the waters rise above them. He does his job, without trying to get too caught up in the plight of the displaced. After years of surviving under harsh conditions, he always has his eyes out for anything left behind that's worth stealing. But when he encounters a 46-year-old woman and her 17-year-old daughter, squatting in a luxurious home, he may be in for much more than he bargained for. 4. Cake Walk - 21 pp - At 25, the narrator is now involved with a woman, Margo. A viral plague has killed off most of the population and he and Margo are camped out in the desert. He is concerned that over the course of their relationship Margo often disappears for days - sometime to go off on her own, other times to be with other men. When he encounters a man with the plague - and has to stay high in a tree to avoid getting infected -- he vows to change his ways and stop relying on petty thievery to get by. But Margo, whom he met when they were both in the act of committing a robbery, may have other ideas. 5. Uses for Vinegar - 19 pp - At age 30, the narrator is working for the government again, giving out grants for living expenses to the residents of an oil-drilling town that burned down after an explosion. Since the events of the last story, Margo left him for another man. She has schemed her way, with her new lover, into the camp to try get some of the money the narrator's doling out. She swears she wants to reunite with him. He wants her back, but isn't sure if she means it or is just up to more of her scheming swindles. (The title comes from all the varied ways ways vinegar can be used -- to lessen the stench of the fire, get rid of her lice, and to ward off stinging bugs.) 6. The Forest for the Trees - 26 pp - Margo and the narrator, who is now age 33, are living of a life of luxury - staying in fancy converted hotels, getting lots of access to food and all the new fancy, designer drugs they could want because they have teamed up with a wild and powerful female senator, Juliet. It's an age of free, open and often bizarre sex and marriage contracts called "practical unions" that must be renewed every 18 months. The narrator and Margo's union is up for renewal and to gain some stability for him and Margo, the narrator is hoping that Juliet will enter a three-way practical union with them. A bi-sexual who mostly preferred women in the past, Juliet was actually able to advance her political standing by having open sex with the narrator in sex clubs. So he's hoping that she'll see this three-way union as a way to further enhance her political career. 7. Predisposed - 25 pp - The narrator is 36 now charged with taking care of a boy, the only child in the relatively safe and secured community they're living in. The viral plague left most men, including the narrator, sterile. The boy, Jeph, as one of the few hopes for the future of the community run by elders. Spoiled and obnoxious, Jeph takes advantage of his exalted status. By stealing some of the narrator's hair when he was sleeping, Jeph was able to get a rundown of the narrator's current medical status, which reveals he has the onset of several illnesses, including skin cancer. The boy wants to break away from the community for an adventure, and the narrator agrees, hoping he can gain access to the new, advanced drugs that could treat his illnesses. Their break-out becomes a difficult, trying journey. 8. The Profit Motive - 22 pp - After a period of extended violence, there is a truce, and the new government is looking to recruit workers who don't have too checkered a past. The narrator is one of the lucky few who have an opportunity to interview for a job. But the interview goes a bit weirdly, with the interviewer testing how he'll respond to temptations. The narrator knows everything is being monitored and he keeps trying to second guess what the appropriate response should be to all the tests they put him under. 9. Best Medicine - 16 pp - The narrator at age 40 is leading an adventure tour for people with terminal illnesses. There is a great line about how these people are "hungry for everything, like last-minute shoppers, trying to take home the whole store." He decides to take them to a shaman, who might provide traditional remedies to their illnesses. Without giving too much away, here's where the novel-like aspects of the book bear full fruit.