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. As shortages start to bite, it's interesting to see the food producers in the countryside start to eclipse their starving urban neighbours; but by the end we see the urbanites draw strength again from their tighter social structures. It's interesting, as the antithesis to so many post-Apocalyptic novels, to see currency continue to be useful - rather more so than the hi-tech goods it once purchased. Perhaps a reflection of our present wish to make ever more money despite our lack of faith in the longevity of so much that we buy.
There are some delightful cameo characters. Our hero's survivalist father; Margo, his partner. Most intriguing, though, is Jeph - a rich child in a commune. His private wealth means that even though he is the youngest member of the commune, ostensibly looked after by all the other members, he really calls all the shots. The child who finds he has adults at his beck and call is a dangerous creature indeed.
For all the bleakness, though, there's a really black sense of humour running through the stories too. And more than a sense that the joke's directly between the author and the reader with the story just used to illustrate the joke.
Really, this is a stonking read. I don't want to spoil all the fun - just read it. It's superbly written, has playful ideas a-plenty and is a million miles away from preaching. It'll also be completely misunderstood by every environmentalist in the land.