Review Blog

May 18 2010

Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

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Sleepers Publishing, Melbourne, Australia 2009. Louis Braille Audio, Melbourne, Australia 2010. Read by Noel Hodda, 5 CD's, 5 hrs.
Highly recommended. This series of linked short stories depicting one man's survival in a dystopian future covers an astonishing array of communities and people, trying to make sense of what is happening. Some stories follow chronologically from the one before, others seem to veer off into an unconnected space, but all give a sense of impending doom as the unnamed narrator struggles to keep going whichever way he can. A thief, a government worker, doing menial chores of clearing the dead or turning people out of their homes, or simply an opportunist, the man keeps going until, at the end of the novel he comes full circle, meeting his father once again.
The opening story is set at the turn of the new millennium, when he and his parents drive to their grandparent's farm in the country to celebrate the event. His father is unconvinced about the safety of being in a city, and his wife teases him with talk of the millennium bug, and things stopping or exploding. Next the boy is older, living with his grandparents who require a carer, because he is about to go to court, branded a thief. We see that times have changed; there is talk of needing a pass to live in the country or the city, of meds to keep people alive in this strangely autocratic regime.
Again, the story moves into a bleaker future where the man is surviving in a rainsodden world, one where he has the task of moving people off their land before the flood envelopes them. Later he and his companion are surviving against all odds, taking their meds to ward off the killing cough that people are spreading across the land. In another story he is a tour guide to the terminally ill, all requiring meds to stay alive and with the bus pumping out immunity air. In another he teams up with a girl who promises the earth, but uses him to gain credits.
An apocalypse, rising water levels, global warming or epidemic, the cause of the societal change is unexplained, but the results see the narrator surviving through successive stories with hints of varying forms of autocratic governments. He finds people living in small communities in the hinterland, developing their own creed to stay alive, governments sweeping all before them, disease savaging those left, with life threatening illnesses requiring government supplied meds.
Each is an individual story telling of a different aspect of this dystopian society, and while they can be seen as one, the story of the boy's progression from being a teen to an older and wiser man, they can stand alone and so make wonderful short stories to read or work on with a class. Each story resonates with wider implications, of varieties of backgrounds and themes, which could be teased out with students.
Noel Hodda's voice has a slight hesitation which suits the story admirably; underlining the indecision the main character feels along the way, working out what is happening and what he should do in the face of the things which threaten to overtake him. Hodda does not alter his voice markedly to differentiate between the main characters, but softens or hardens, slows or quickens his voice to show the different people. His reading is well paced, allowing the listener to take it all in without having to go back, although I listened to the whole again so entranced was I with the story and the reading.
Fran Knight

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