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

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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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: 304,247 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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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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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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Format: Paperback
This book comes highly recommended but I was disappointed. The narrative meanders about and characters lack depth, motivation or the ability to instill empathy in the reader. Set in a post-apocalyptic world (we never really get to find out what happened but nuclear war seems the most likely with a lot of cancers about) we follow the life of a 9 year old boy in interspersed fragments of time until he reaches his forties, in that time the world seems to get worse. We meet a cast of characters along the way - most of which are difficult to read or understand. There is not enough background and too much is left for the reader to fill in. Maybe its the intention of the writer to get across a sense of dislocation in this way, but for me its just too fragmented.

Its been compared to The Road, but I think post-apocalyptic scenario aside, its got very little in common with it. The Road is a visceral read, full of near biblical prose, imbued with meaning. It has characters with a sense of love, sacrifice and humanity - we are there with them pushing that cart, starving hungry, battling to survive. The Things We Didnt See Coming on the other hand presents us with shallow characters whose motivations and desires seem petty, banal and more than a little confusing. I think in some sense thats what Amsterdam was after - that we go on being flawed beings even in the wake of events such as the near destruction of mankind. There are moments, for example in the closing chapters, where you almost begin to care for the people he depicts; I liked the dreamlike feel of the protaganist meeting up with his shaman father towards the end as he attempts to heal his son.
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By Simon Tavener VINE VOICE on 16 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback
The literary world has had a number of post-apocalyptic novels to consider in recent years. This, I suspect, will not be on many top ten lists for the genre.

For a novel to trace the story of a young man through his life in a country devastated by some terrible event, you would expect to see some character development as well. However the central voice does not change - whether a teenager, a young man in his twenties or beyond towards the end of his life - he speaks in the same way, with the same thoughts, the same tone. I would have thought that the unspoken event which causes the collapse of society would have had a significant effect on those left behind - but apparently our 'hero' is unchanged throughout his life.

Add to this the rather unconnected and fragmented chapters, we are left with something that really fails to engage the audience into the lives of the sketchy characters on the page.

I really fail to see why this has been received so positively. It is a shallow piece of writing and one that shows very little promise.
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By Quicksilver TOP 1000 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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