“For the first time, Dad is letting me help pack the car, but only because it’s getting to be kind of an emergency...”

Read the first chapter

“The book as a whole is 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; some of those fears are eternal, some shockingly new.”

The Guardian

“ce fulgurant roman...”— Les Echos

“Breathtakingly strange...Things We Didn’t See Coming is the kind of book that can inspire us to think differently about the world and entertain us at the same time.”
Washington Post

“A smart, snappy collection of Apoca-lit now... It’s a clever structure and Amsterdam works it fabulously well.”— Pop Matters

“A treat to read—playful, intelligent, and intriguing.”

Daily Mail

“Moving and poetic”—The Scotsman Book Supplement

“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... A memorable debut.”

Financial Times

“Even in the blackest scenes Amsterdam's gift for mordant humour keeps the reader entertained and depression at bay... 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. In Amsterdam's hands the apocalypse sounds like it might be fun.”—Sunday Times (London)

“Disturbing and deeply smart … darkly comic and full of surprises.”

Time Out New York

“ Fantastic and gripping and utterly original... Abstract and philosophical, this book is a journey towards acceptance of many things, including death, all considered through a series of set pieces. The narrative pulls you in and then darts off. It is a maze, an adventure, a lesson, a lament. Read it once and then read it twice, often... Rarely has the darkness of life been looked at with such buoyant irony, imaginative grace and disarming candour.”—Irish Times

“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

“Brilliant … Thoughtful, intelligent, savvy… full of horror and hope and compels you to think.”  —The News & Observer (Raleigh)

“Reminiscent of the recent dystopian novels of Margaret Atwood…. Funny, scary, and described with a flair for the telling detail.” —Harper’s Magazine

“Feels like a genuine discovery… Timely and unexpectedly moving.”

The Daily Beast

“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

“Enters the literary world with a full-blown talent that can’t be stopped.” —Library Journal (starred review)

"The perfect combination of uncanny landscapes, existential anxiety and social critique" —Australian Book Review

Dire as many of the developments are in Things We  Didn’t See Coming, the restrained beauty of the storytelling provides an uplifting balance.”
Sydney Morning Herald

“Preternaturally assured, finely crafted and thoroughly accomplished, it deserves to be read widely.”
The Age (Melbourne)

“[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

“Impressive and believable…. Amsterdam’s understated predictions are refreshing.” —The Onion’s A.V. Club

“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

“[A] clever blend of humor and razor-edged sadness” —Courier-Mail (Brisbane)

“A sharp debut. . . . Amsterdam resists the temptation to turn any of the stories into cautionary tales or sermons...[He] takes an unexpected approach by forgoing a narrative arc to focus on individual people and incidents instead of the larger world.” —The Wichita Eagle

“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—foodless worlds; heartless periods of ceaseless rain and savagery; breakouts of peace and plenty marked by venality and ambition; biblical pestilence and illness—ends up anything but; one puts down the book feeling something close to hope. Perhaps it’s the life-is-long, cyclical wisdom of it all, maybe it’s a newfound appreciation for the Here And Now, although I’m inclined to think it’s just gratitude that there are such writers around.” —David Rakoff, author of Half Empty  and  Don’t Get Comfortable

“Bold, original, and sneakily affecting.” —Emily Maguire, author of Taming the Beast

“There’s more happening between the lines in this book than there is within the lines of many other novels of literary fiction. Amsterdam’s writing is tight, calculated and compelling, allowing the characters to breathe into life. ”

—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

& blogs all over: Black Sheep Dances BookbabeBookmunchBook Trust  Chicago Seminary Coop Bookstore Curled Up with a Good Book Edge Fantasy Book Critic Green Man Review Les Echos Literary Minded Mad Bibliophile Mot á Mot Pop Matters Reading Matters ReadPlus The Book Tuner The Enthusiast The Fiction Desk The Lit Review The Specusphere Three Guys One Book Time for Decaf Tooth Soup Voguing to Danzig Writer in Disguise

          Click flag for full reviews


Things We Didn’t See Coming


  1. Each chapter involves a different kind of disaster or milestone of decline. How far in the future do the different chapters feel and why? Which events or societal shifts seem possible?

  1. The only chapter set in the past, “What We Know Now” takes place on the eve of Y2K, with the narrator’s father panicking about the grid collapsing. How does this starting point—about a disaster that didn’t happen—change your reading of the apocalyptic changes that come in later chapters?

  1. Things We Didn’t See Coming has an unusual structure. Each chapter is set at least three years apart. Most conclude with the narrator finding himself in uncertain territory, that seems to be resolved by the start of the next chapter. Are these linked short stories or is it a discontinuous narrative? How do the chronological gaps between the chapters shape your reading of the narrator’s life? What questions do they leave unanswered?

  1. The Guardian (UK) wrote “Amsterdam’s tone is refreshingly unapocalyptic.” What sort of counterpoint does the narrator’s wry outlook provide to the severity of the setting?

  1. Neither the narrator nor the book’s terrain is ever specifically named. What does having an unnamed narrator do for a story like this? Where is this story set? Why?

  1. While watching the movie Robocop, the narrator comments, “… the futuristic stuff is interesting because they got everything so wrong.” (from “The Forest and the Trees”) Given that Things We Didn’t See Coming is mostly set in the future, how does his comment relate? Does the book feel like a predictive text or something else?

  1. Recent novels that take place in dystopian settings, including Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, similarly portray worlds of deprivation and social breakdown. In what way is Things We Didn’t See Coming different from other contemporary books about the future?

  1. “Land Management  looks the other way as long as we clear out the stragglers. They keep us on horses to prevent us from carrying away too much of the take. They say it saves on fuel, but the way it is now they’ve got to provide me as well as my horse with enough meds to stay functional. A jeep would be cheaper and faster.” (from “Dry Land”)  “I had just started in Verification, [Margo] had finished training to work in Grief, but both of us were helping out Rescue.” (from “Uses for Vinegar”) Despite the continual chaos, government control and bureaucracy is evident throughout much of Things We Didn’t See Coming. What aspects of its presence seem familiar? As the narrator works in several different government roles over the course of the book, how does his relationship to the system change?

  1. Do the narrator and Margo have “a chemical basis for love” (from “Uses for Vinegar”)? Is a “practical union” (from “The Forest and the Trees”) a good solution for them?

  1. Health plays a significant role in the book. Illness impacts the grandmother, the narrator, as well as his tour group (“My niche is the last-hurrah set, folks with at least two major cancers or a primary ailment, but still sporty enough to manage a little adventure.” (from “Best Medicine”). To what extent does it inform the decisions he makes?

  1. It is sometimes said that inside every dystopian novel is a utopian novel trying to get out. If this is true, and they are two sides of one idea, why might dystopian novels be more prevalent at present? Several reviewers have spoken of a sense of hope throughout Things We Didn’t See Coming. Where do you find it?


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