The International Writers Magazine: Review
Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
Published - 04/08/2011
Publisher - Vintage
Sam North review
First a note of caution. It is damn hard to get hold of this book. Although published in August this year (2011) no one seems to carry stock - so that is why Amazon exists. That said 'Things We Didn’t See Coming' is one of those why the hell didn’t I think of that novels and it’s a fascinating read.
A nine-year-old boy is fleeing the city with his parents on the eve of the Millennium as the Y2K meltdown approaches at midnight. His father believes all hell will break loose if they don’t get out of the city and join his grandparents in the sticks. Without drama or any special effects we then discover that Y2K happened, everything shut down. (Apple wasn’t running the world back then). IBM and Microsoft failed the world and it descends into chaos at midnight right across the globe.
I realise that you have be at least 25 now to make sense of this, but eleven years ago people really did believe the world was going to end and Steven Amsterdam has done a brilliant ‘what if’ take on that terrible night when civilisation comes to an abrupt halt.
We follow that small boy as he grows up over the next thirty years in this post-apocalyptic world. Society breaks up, becomes violent, then people slowly starve as diseases rage out of control.
At some point the climate changes and the ‘job’ he grows up to have is to roam from the different farm outposts in a drowning world to persuade people to leave their homes and head to safety. It doesn’t always go smoothly and then he loses his horse.
All the time our narrator does his best to survive, hooking up with a good thieving woman to survive, trying to avoid plague – all the time seeking answers and affection. The human needs are all still there – only certainty and security have gone. The State can never be trusted and although it seems to be putting things back together - honesty is the major casualty.
Yes this is a bleak novel, but extremely well crafted and imagined and it takes unexpected twists and turns – moral certainties are turned on their heads. Each chapter pushes up forward in years and Things We Didn’t See Coming is a wonderful examination of a crack in time, haunting, passive, yet compelling.
Order it now; you’ll be glad you survived Y2K
© Sam North September 2011 - author of Another Place to Die & Magenta