Category: Contemporary Fiction / Dystopia / Sci-Fi
Author: Liz Harmer
Format: Hardcover, 330 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Pub Date: March 21, 2018
Summary from Publisher:
In the style of Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, andThe Walking Dead, The Amateurs is a post-apocalyptic examination of nostalgia, loss and the possibility of starting over.
PINA, the largest tech company in the world, introduces a product called port. These ports offer space-time travel powered by nostalgia and desire. Want to go back to when your relationship was blossoming? To when your kids were small, or when your parents met? To Elizabethan England? To 1990s Seattle? Easy. Step inside the port with a destination in mind, and you will be transported. But there is a catch: it’s possible that you cannot come back. And the ports are incredibly seductive, drawing in those with weaker wills…
Nearly everyone buys the ports, and soon, nearly everyone is gone. Those who are left attempt to sort out how to survive in this world nearly devoid of humans. Animals are increasing in numbers, roads are degrading, the Internet is down, and gasoline is running out. The survivors are also left with numerous unguarded ports, which are as mysterious as they are threatening.
In this world we follow a motley crew camped out in the abandoned mansions and stately church of a former steel-town that has seen its own share of collapse and growth. The group of about thirty adults and children are looting and surviving on what food they can find. But the harsh winter is fast approaching–do they make the choice to head south as a group, or wait to see if their loved ones will return through the ports?
The Amateurs focuses on a thirty-something artist and shopkeeper, Marie. She has never gotten over her ex-husband, Jason, and stubbornly hopes he’ll return to her from his new marriage and from the world beyond the port. Meanwhile, in California, life at PINA is breaking down. Brandon, the former head of PR and right-hand man to Albrecht Doors, the mad genius who invented the ports, decides to get out while he still can. He steals a solar-powered car and drives north-east, where he hopes to find his missing mother, and start a new life, maybe a family. And there he meets Marie.
The Amateurs is a story of rapture and romance. It’s an astoundingly powerful debut about the end of technological optimism and the beginning of real optimism.
- From Goodreads
The Amateurs by Liz Harmer is a fantastic, dystopian debut, which could very well describe a realistic and prophetic future of unbridled, ambitious technological advancement—and ultimately, society’s own demise.
With the production of an ambiguous product called Port, which offers to its owners the opportunity for alleged, instant space-time travel powered by personal nostalgia and desire, the new advancement in tech-toy entertainment in an unknown future, explodes rapidly into a buy-out craze, a manic hysteria of potential, instant travel, which results in an unknowing, dwindling population that simply eradicates itself by disappearing with no significant signs of return.
While one end of the spectrum speaks to the population, which is seduced by the imaginative possibilities that the product Port promises, the other end of the spectrum leaves a begrudged population whose mistrust of PINA products strands them into a solitary struggle of survival and nomadic living.
And at its pinnacle narcissism is the creator of Port, an emboldened and manic Albrecht Doors, whose CEO title, diabolical wealth and power, and smooth-talking, sales-pitching art of what often seems like a magician’s manipulation, quickly catapults him into an obsessive, crowned leader of the PINA headquarters, which evolves into a cultist stronghold that overrides common sense, logic, reason, and the independence of free thinking.
The characters in the novel are fitted to their roles: Maria, whose tenacity to hope and nostalgia keeps her weary of the Port and emotionally distant from the group of survivors left behind; and Brandon, whose optimism and complacency leaves Albrecht Doors’ power and influence relatively unchecked.
The novel’s narrative is easily readable, while the dialogue is true to its characters’ thought processes and demise. And the pacing of the book is quick enough to deem itself unnoticeable. Readers spend more time engrossed in the story rather than plodding through its pages wondering when the story will finally come to its end. The cover design depicts a pineapple, though if you haven’t read the book yet, this choice of illustration won’t incite any significance though it makes sense that it speaks to the PINA corporation, which is at the heart of this novel’s conflict.
What earns this novel’s winning stars is its plot-driven style. Liz Harmer’s imagination of an apocalyptic world that encompasses a plausible, technological advancement is not only only creative, but could easily become true—or at least, she’s written it well enough to become believable.
Some of the questions posed here are:
With society’s need to constantly be entertained, how far is far enough when it comes to creating evolving technological advancements?
Is artificial intelligence a help or a potential hazard to society? What policies and procedures can be put into place to ensure society is kept safe?
How far is someone willing to go to deceitfully endanger lives in order to sustain power and profitability?
What kinds of skills does society risk losing in the name of its growing dependency and addiction to technological devices?
How has technological advancements already affected the social dynamic of our culture and way of living?
And how can we ensure our culture does not lose its integral way of connecting with one another in the face of ever-evolving tech services?
In any case, The Amateurs by Liz Harmer is a creatively written plot that offers fair warning of the potential hazard humankind can unknowingly and ambitiously create against itself if left unchecked.
Characters: 3 stars
Plot: 4 stars
Language/Narrative: 3.5 stars
Dialogue: 3 stars
Pacing: 4 stars
Cover Design: 3 stars
A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with a copy of The Amateurs by Liz Harmer in exchange for an honest and timely review.
About the Author:
Liz Harmer is working on a second novel and a story collection. Her stories, reviews, and essays have been published widely in Hazlitt, Literary Hub, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Raised in and around Hamilton, Ontario, she currently lives with her husband and three daughters in Southern California.
- From The Amateurs