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Things We Didn't See Coming Paperback – 4 Aug 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (4 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009954704X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099547044
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 359,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A memorable debut...[and a] gleefully apocalyptic novel... as ever with this kind of dystopian fiction, there is a satisfying tingle in imagining an Armageddon just round the corner. But Amsterdam also gives his book an emotional heart" (Adrian Turpin Financial Times)

"What makes Things We Didn't See Coming such an impressive novel - and very impressive debut - is the playfulness of the writing contrasted to the grimness of the subject matter" (Christopher Potter Sunday Times)

"Rarely has the darkness of life been looked at with such buoyant irony, imaginative grace and disarming ardour. Read it once and then read it twice" (Eileen Battersby Irish Times)

"A small marvel, overflowing with ideas. Scary, funny, shocking and touching by turns" (Justine Jordan Guardian)

"Here's that rare thing - a post-apocalypse novel that's more than doom and gloom. A treat to read - playful, intelligent and intriguing" (Daily Mail)

Book Description

A mesmerising debut set in a not-too-distant future, in a landscape at once utterly fantastic and strangely familiar.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Things We Didn't See Coming is a delightful, quirky and unsettling read. It presents a series of sequential short stories, each following the same unnamed protagonist, moving on from the evening of the Millennium Bug into a dystopian future of catastrophic climate; disease; disintegration of society and more.

I had the privilege of hearing Steven Amsterdam read from the book and answer questions. My question was, given that nothing dates faster than the future, did Steven Amsterdam think this was a book about the future or a book about our present fears and anxieties. Without hesitation, he replied that it was about the present day. In starting out with the Millennium Bug - the disaster that never happened - we are shown our own fallability in predicting the future. Later on, our hero watches Robocop and laughs at how badly wrong the predictions of the future turned out to be. This is no attempt at prediction; it's no warning about what might happen if we don't tackle climate change. No, it's a story very much about our thirst for doom, our neuroses of all that might go wrong in our own lifetimes.

The narration is not always easy. Steven Amsterdam writes in a spare, haunting style. He presents images rather than fine phrases. Our hero is a man of few words. A latterday cowboy, drifting from one job to another, pretty ambivalent to issues of right and wrong. He's neither good nor bad, he just is - in a world where those with more polar personalities fall by the wayside. Our hero is a survivor without ever truly understanding how it is he who survives.

The visions of Hell are interesting - especially the segregation of urban and rural people.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Quicksilver TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 July 2012
Format: Paperback
Steven Amsterdam's 'Things we didn't See Coming' is a curious tome on a number of levels. For a start, we never find out the narrator's name. Not a new device, but one which the author carries off well. The structure is unusual. Each chapter is a snapshot of the narrator's life. The time frame in each moves forward an unspecified amount of time from the previous one, and each jump picks up the story with the narrator deep in the middle of a peculiar predicament. The novel opens on the eve of the millennium (1999), when he is nine years old. He's packed into the family car, as his paranoid father tries to save him and his family from the millennium bug. Something we saw coming, that never came to pass.

As the novel continues forward we see a civilisation that is crumbling. Our narrator is doing what he can to avoid falling through its cracks. He is at the whim of unpredictable changes in global circumstances that have altered millions of lives; things we didn't see coming. Amsterdam's decline in civilisation is piecemeal. Small changes have large implications globally and for the individual.

Much of what has happened to the narrator between the chapters of his story is left to the reader to try to piece together. This gives the novel a fragmented feel; making this a series of vignettes of a world in decline, rather than a traditional dystopian narrative. This broken form of storytelling will not be to everybody's tastes, but whilst I enjoyed some chapters more than others, I liked the extra wiggle room the device allows. It prompts the reader to think about what the chain of events might have been, and how they relate to our world. The majority of modern dystopian novels are published with the young adult market in mind, so tend to be narrative driven.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom Doyle on 31 May 2012
Format: Paperback
Droughts, fireballs, floods, authoritarian regimes run by faceless figures, epidemics, anarchy, gangs of criminals, hiding in hills to avoid society, widespread drug dependence (for those who can afford the drugs)... no future, no hopes, beyond living another day.

I picked up this book in a tiny bookshop with about 30 other titles on the Isles of Scilly, which felt a bit like the end of the world too (perhaps that's why they stocked it). Amsterdam colourfully describes the descent of civilisation, beginning with a family's retreat to the countryside to avoid apocalypse in the city, followed by a rapid fall into a criminal scratch existence in which the rule is: trust no-one.

But humanity creeps through and the protagonist, who begins the book aged 9, has a gentle, musing side even as he rips off peoples' possessions to buy more "meds" (medications). At one point, he also has a strange relationship with he woman he clearly loves but equally clearly can't trust... she's too caught up in the weird new world for that.

Amsterdam is from New York but lives in Melbourne. This book reminded me a little of Nevil Shute's post atomic war On the Beach, based in Australia (though TWDSC isn't in the same league as that). What strikes home - unfortunately and increasingly disturbingly - is how likely many of the outcomes Amsterdam predicts may actually be. Great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kat on 27 Jan. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Things We Didn't See Coming is the story of one young boy, 9 years old on the eve of the millennium, and his subsequent journey through a world irrevocably changed by Y2K. As the world falls slowly apart and suffers through drought, flood, fire and disease, he teeters on the fence of petty crime and respectable government employment and experiences all facets of the evolution of human civilization.

The writing is beautifully stark, poetic and chilling, and the story twists and turns along with his fortunes and falls. This is not a book for the faint-hearted; there are few redeeming moments and little happiness in his journey through his teenage years and adulthood. The characters are flawed, but fit completely in the story - alliances are easily broken and every person is focused on their own and their families survival.

I enjoyed Things We Didn't See Coming immensely - Mr. Amsterdam's writing reminded me of Tim Winton or Ian McEwan and I was more than surprised to learn Things We Didn't See Coming is his debut novel. I look forward to reading more of his work in the very near future.
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