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23 Oct 2011

Book review: Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

"This whole thing is symbolic, symbolic of a system that's hopelessly short-sighted." Pg 21

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 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.

It should be noted that I never intended to read this book. I'd not even heard of the name Steven Amsterdam before. So imagine my surprise as I'm attending a panel event for Dystopia Fiction at the Melbourne Writers Festival - Purely to see Max Barry in action - that I learn of this strange and wonderful book.

Based purely on his talk and the chapter he read on stage, I purchased said book (getting it signed as well, of course!) and got stuck right into it. And did I get stuck into it. A seemly short novel of just 174 pages, I quickly caught on that this wasn't a book to breeze through. It is written in such a way that you never hear the whole story that the narrator is telling you. There is confusion and chaos at the beginning of each chapter - which is the authors' intent, naturally.

I love dystopian fiction, I think that is clear throughout this blog, but Things We Didn't See Coming brings the genre to a whole other level. I'm not sure I could compare it to anything else that's out there. Truly an experience I'll never forget.

Published: March 2009 by Sleepers Publishing Inc.