Most books and movies that deal with the end of humanity like to present a dramatic and well defined reason for our demise. Perhaps a deadly plague, an environmental calamity or even an invasion by aliens will do us in. Imagine a different scenario. What if things just started to slowly fall apart and, much like the decline of ancient Rome, future generations, if there were any, would look back and argue over just what caused “the decline and fall”?
This intriguing idea is the background for the excellent book Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam. The book is a series of interconnected stories set over the lifetime of the unnamed narrator as he makes his way through an increasingly inhospitable world. Each story finds him at a different stage in his life and offers up a host of calamities he has to cope with (massive computer failure, floods, and disease) but never states exactly what is causing all the damage.
In fact, one of the great accomplishments of Things We Didn’t See Coming is that you stop asking yourself why things are going so wrong and become more concerned with the characters and the choices they make. The author’s spare prose encourages this perception and he carefully crafts each character and situation so they are memorable.
In the end, it takes a pretty good writer to make you ignore the apocalypse.