The Amateurs by Liz Harmer is hard to slot into one category; it’s literary, philosophical, dystopian and science fiction, all within 300-ish pages. Even the publishers had to use other books like The Leftovers by Tom Perotta, The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and The Circle by Dave Eggers to describe what this book is similar to. Did it succeed in keeping my interest, even though it was all over the place in space, time and location? To be honest, I’m still pondering that, but the fact that I’m still thinking about the book even though I finished it a while ago is a good thing.
Marie is our protagonist, and she lives in a world that has been mostly emptied of humans, as far as she knows. A few years ago, a google-like company called PINA (with a pineapple logo) invented ‘ports’ which claimed to transport people to any time or location they desired, simply by walking through the port and thinking of where they wanted to go. The problem is, no one came back through these ports, so all human infrastructure is crumbling with not enough people to tend to it. Marie is living in a town with about 30 other people, and for those who are from Ontario Canada, you will recognize this city as Hamilton. For those who aren’t aware, this city gets very cold in the winter (as most Canadian cities do) so the remaining inhabitants are trying to decide whether they head south to a climate that’s easier to grow food in. They’re hesitant to leave because they a) aren’t sure what to expect when they leave their familiar confines and b) still hold out hope their loved ones may return through the local ports they left in.
There’s two other narratives to this book, one being a short interlude in which we follow a somewhat minor character through the port to discover what he finds on the other side (and obviously I’m not going to tell you anymore about that because it will ruin the surprise!). The second is a section that focuses on the remaining employees of PINA and what it’s like to live in the PINA compound now that most of the employees have gone through the ports themselves. This is when we peripherally meet Albrecht Doors, the mad genius who ‘discovered’ the ports, who very tellingly, has not entered one himself (hello red flag!). We also learn that the ports have the ability to coerce people, which is when we explore the idea of them being a type of highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. One PINA employee in particular breaks free of the cult-like environment and heads up north to his hometown, so readers get a glimpse into the life of the remaining population elsewhere.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say dystopian novels are fascinating. My favourite part is learning about the steps that society follows when things begin to fall apart and the day-to-day conditions people are left with. These types of books act as a warning and additional fodder for the already anxious among us. Despite the urgent nature of the plot, The Amateurs slows us right now, taking the time to sit in people’s heads and explore the nature of desire and how controlling it can be. PINA is so closely modelled after Google in this book that it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see how our own world could fall into the same kind of disarray. In many ways PINA’s power was positive, for instance it released a product called BioBark which converted carbon dioxide to energy, but there is always a darker side to progress and this all encompassing corporation eventually entered that realm.
The only thing I didn’t like about this book was all the philosophizing, I wished the plot had moved a bit quicker in that sense. But, I also found the premise unique and exciting, which propelled me through the pages at a decent pace. This book isn’t for everyone, but it will most certainly appeal to those looking for an adventure that takes place in a closely-related reality to our own.
The concept definitely sounds intriguing!
It is intriguing-and not unrealistic either (yikes!)
Albrecht Doors won’t go through the portals the way Bill Gates won’t let his kids use cell phones. Boy howdy! We’re all screwed, lol.
This book sounds really interesting. Based on the review, it sounds like a science fiction-horror-dystopian novel to me. Horror because when people don’t come back through special holes, I assume they’re dead and being used as food for the machines in the Matrix.
Bill Gates won’t let his kids use cell phones? You’re right, we are all screwed.
It’s horror in the sense that we don’t know what’s happened to them, but it is mostly of the ‘literary’ genre I would say. Not as dystopian as some other books I’ve read lately…
I LOVE literary genre fiction. There were a surprising number of writers headed in the direction around the time I graduated from my MFA program. Literary horror, literary fairy tales, literary romance. It’s THE BEST.
I’m learning that more and more and it’s exciting!
Our town has palm trees right beside the town welcome sign! They’re shorter than I am and super scraggly and I don’t know why someone chose them to be there. This book sounds fascinating. The concept of being drawn in by the idea of somewhere “better” is so universal and human that I could see lots of potential in this novel.
Ah I loved seeing palm trees in BC, it felt so exotic! LOL
If the first batch didn’t come back, I’m not sure I’d have been signing up to be part of the second batch! Sounds intriguing… artificial intelligence is as scary as driverless vehicles. I don’t think I’m cut out for modern life… 😉
driverless vehicles is pretty terrifying indeed. I find portals less scary that autonomous vehicles, because you can decide whether to step into them or not! The road is a different story…
Sorry just saw your comment (albeit months after you posted) and couldn’t resist mentioning John Marrs’ Passengers is all about driverless vehicle- and worth the read
Oh, thank you for the recommendation!
I’d like to read this one! It’s been on my list for a while, but, you know…
I’m with you – I love seeing how society falls apart and what everyone does about it. It’s kind of like research! Ha!
This premise sounds so interesting!