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Speculative fiction has never really been my bag. Sure, I like a good SciFi fare every now and then, but you won’t catch me reading the Left Behind series and if you press me about it, I’ll probably succumb to opining that most of Philip K. Dick’s books seem less like novels than rituals in paranoia. Doesn’t exactly make for interesting character driven fiction.
But in the interest of doing a 180 and eating my words, allow me to formally introduce to you Steve Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming . This collection of short stories could have easily been edited and published as a novel. The book opens with the ominous line: ‘For the first time, Dad is letting me pack up the car, but only because it’s getting to be kind of an emergency.’ Each novel finds the unnamed protagonist a little older and the world a little stranger. The main aorta of the book is represented in each chapter, but the reader is left to his own devices to parse that central plot together.
I won’t be playing spoiler if I tell you that this book of short stories deals with a central character and his family as they learn to live in a United States where some undescribed calamity has occurred (you can pretty much read this verbatim on the jacket.) OK, so the central ‘thing’ of the novel is alluded to but not spelled out. For detractors of books who find themselves being spoon fed, the authors giving away too much information all the time, this book is for you.
The writing? Simplistic yet moving. Amsterdam seemed to have rarely used his desk thesaurus which really speaks volumes as to how he can move the reader with the smallest nuances. In the second chapter, when the protagonist laments ‘what little he remember(s) of crying’ the reader is forced to believe him. Amsterdam’s writing is sometimes very comic, sometimes quite tragic but it is always engaging, and he does a wonderful job pulling the reader into a future world much different than the collective ideal.