Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam (Shane's book 32, 2010)

This is either a novel or a book of short stories, depending on your perspective. We follow our unnamed narrator (or, perhaps, narrators) through a series of global calamities. Starting with the Y2K bug, which has a disastrous outcome in this version of events, and moving through disease, environmental disaster, border wars and more, Amsterdam offers up a selection of near-apocalypses. [amtap book:isbn=1846553660]

Our narrator survives each one and we follow his attempts to understand what has happened to his world and to continue some kind of normal existence.As you'd expect, some stories work better than others and the cumulative effect, at least for me, was to reduce tension, rather than increase it. We know that each time we meet our narrator he will be in the midst of another disaster so there's little point in worrying too much about his survival.

Instead, the interest comes from wondering what kind of catastrophe Amsterdam will conjure next and which strange people our narrator will meet. It's consistently interesting and the whole book flies by.

If that sounds a little sterile, that's how it felt to me reading it. Only a few stories carry real emotional weight, most notably the opening and closing stories, which centre on the narrator and his father.

This is a good book but not an entirely successful one. Somehow, as the narrator's experiences move further and further away from a world that is recognisably ours, the stories become mere hypotheses. Tales that should remind us of the fragility of our society are instead just intriguing thought experiments. That's enjoyable enough but I hoped for something deeper.