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Things We Didn't See Coming Hardcover – 2 Feb 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books; 1 edition (2 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307378500
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378507
  • Product Dimensions: 14.5 x 2.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,125,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Breathtakingly strange. . . . The kind of book that can inspire us to think differently about the world and entertain us at the same time." --"The Washington Post
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""Things We Didn't See Coming" feels like a genuine discovery. It is the most compelling portrait of dystopia I've read in years. . . . Timely and unexpectedly moving." --Taylor Antrim, "The Daily Beast"
"A small marvel, overflowing with ideas. Scary, funny, shocking and touching by turns, it combines the readerly pleasures of constant reorientation with the sober charge of an urgent warning. "Things We Didn't See Coming" refracts our life-and-death fears through those moments of human contact where they are most keenly felt." --"The Guardian "(London)
"Deeply smart . . . and full of surprises." --"Time Out New York"
"[The narrator] is a wry observer with a throbbing conscience. . . . A heartbreaker. It's hard to embrace a Cassandra. But Amsterdam seems to still be betting on the better parts of our humanity, if not our prescience, to see us through." --"The Plain Dealer "
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"Brilliant. . . . Thoughtful, intelligent, savvy." --"The News & Observer
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"Funny, scary, and described with a flair for the telling detail." --"Harper's
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"Impressive. . . . [Those] looking for a more ruminative view of the world's end--perhaps not with a bang so much as a series of whimpers--may find Amsterdam's close-focus approach to thinking about the unthinkable to be chillilngly effective." --David Maine, author of "The Preservationist "
"Steven Amsterdam . . . bolsters his dystopian vision with issues facing our planet, from climate change to refugees; computer bugs to medical malpractice. Each of these issues that fill our daily news consumption and contribute to heightened anxieties is, in Amsterdam's hands, a mere backdrop to explore how humans need not become devils in the face of approaching annihilation. Which makes "Things We Didn't See Coming" a far more hopeful book than its subject indicates." --"Chicago Sun-Times"
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"Such an impressive novel. . . . In Amsterdam's hands, the apocalypse sounds like it might be fun." --"The Sunday Times "(London)
"Describes the smaller, most human responses to unimaginable disaster." --"The San Francisco Chronicle"
"Fantastic and gripping and utterly original. . . . Read it once and then read it twice, often." --"The Irish Times"
"Amsterdam enters the literary world with a full-blown talent that can't be stopped." --"Library Journal" (starred review)
"Impressive and believable. . . . Amsterdam's understated predictions are refreshing." --"The Onion's" A.V. Club
"Read it all in one day. You won't be disappointed." --"The Decatur Daily "
"Something very strange happens upon finishing Steven Amsterdam's (remarkably assured and kind of masterful) stories: what should be a bum trip through a variety of dystopias . . . ends up anything but; one puts down the book feeling something close to hope. . . . I'm inclined to think it's just gratitude that there are such writers around." --David Rakoff, author of "Fraud "and "Don't Get Too Comfortable"
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"Don't read this book in bed unless you want to stay up past your bedtime thrilled by the discovery of a new writer. . . . [A] stunning read." --The Millions
"Amsterdam blazes through his bleak tale of hope--the true heart of any good dystopia. . . . Thought-provoking entertainment." --"San Antonio Current "
"Spare, effective, and, when it needs to be, even stunning. . . . The characters we encounter in these narratives . . . feel alive and whole." --"Orion "magazine
"Bold, original, and sneakily affecting." --Emily Maguire, author of "Taming the Beast"
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"[A] clever blend of humor and razor-edged sadness" --"Courier-Mail" (Brisbane)
"Sharp. . . . [Amsterdam] is a keen observer of people." --"The Wichita Eagle "
"A fresh, modern voice . . . Amsterdam's writing is tight, calculated, and compelling." --Andrew Hutchinson, author of "Rohypnol"
"In this book we hear a voice as naturally surprising as the jazz of Django Reinhardt or Dexter Gordon. A real writer, in short." --Gary Indiana, author of "The Shanghai Gesture "and "Utopia's Debris"
"Preternaturally assured, finely crafted and thoroughly accomplished." --"The Age" (Melbourne)
"Gleefully apocalyptic. . . . 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; it lies in the contrast between the narrator's very ordinary emotions--jealousy, fear, the desire to belong--and his extraordinary circumstances." --"Financial Times " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A mesmerising debut set in a not-too-distant future, in a landscape at once utterly fantastic and strangely familiar. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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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 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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