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Fiction Dystopian

The Amateurs

by (author) Liz Harmer

Publisher
Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Apr 2019
Category
Dystopian, Time Travel, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780345811257
    Publish Date
    Apr 2019
    List Price
    $19.95

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Description

In the style of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, Dave Eggers' The Circle: a post-apocalyptic examination of nostalgia, loss and the possibility of starting over.

Allow us to introduce you to the newest product from PINA, the world's largest tech company. "Port" is a curiously irresistible device that offers the impossible: space-time travel mysteriously powered by nostalgia and longing. Step inside a Port and find yourself transported to wherever and whenever your heart desires: a bygone youth, a dreamed-of future, the fabled past.    

In the near-future world of Liz Harmer's extraordinary novel, Port becomes a phenomenon, but soon it is clear that many who pass through its portal won't be coming back--either unwilling to return or, more ominously, unable to do so. After a few short years, the population plummets. The grid goes down. Among those who remain is Marie, a thirtysomething artist living in a small community of Port-resistors camping out in the abandoned mansions of a former steel town. As winter approaches the group considers heading south, but Marie clings to the hope that her long lost lover will one day return to the spot where he disappeared.    

Meanwhile, PINA's corporate campus in California has become a cultish enclave of survivors. Brandon, the right-hand man to the mad genius who invented Port, decides to get out. He steals a car and drives north-east, where he hopes to find his missing mother. And there he meets Marie.     

The Amateurs is a story of rapture and romance, and an astoundingly powerful tale about what happens when technology meets desire.

About the author

Awards

  • Short-listed, Amazon Canada First Novel Award

Contributor Notes

LIZ HARMER's stories and essays have been published in The Malahat ReviewPRISMGrainThe New QuarterlyLittle Brother and other journals. She has won a National Magazine Award in Personal Journalism, was longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize and was a finalist for a Glimmer Train Prize. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Raised in Hamilton, Ontario, she now lives with her husband and their three daughters in southern California.

Excerpt: The Amateurs (by (author) Liz Harmer)

At first, the public had been told that port worked like a revolving door, that it went both ways. PINA quoted people who reported that they’d evaporated and come back, and that the experience was glorious. Carpe diem, they said. You haven’t lived! Someone claimed to have been among the Arawak people before Columbus. Someone claimed to have witnessed the cave painters in Lascaux.

Marie had snorted in disbelief, sitting in front of her TV with the chopsticks in her hand hovering over a bowl of noodles. These so-called travellers had been in the Bahamas before Columbus, and they’d gone prehistoric, and yes, they were wearing appropriate costumes and had unruly facial hair, but they didn’t give any information about those times and places. What was it really like? Marie chewed sardonically, pointed her chopsticks at the screen. No. It was not believable. These people were awestruck and dumbstruck, but they knew nothing at all. Or they were manic for environmentalism. “You have no idea what it’s like with all the trees!” they said. Green so green it made your eyes hurt. Green so green it will make you grow leaves and buds. Contagious green.

This talk of colour had come close to tempting Marie. It was pathological to not be tempted at all. People around her had acquired a missionary zeal. “I want to see everything.” Marie’s sister Claudine’s eyes had gleamed. “I want to see the Mayans! The ancient Egyptians!” Gasp. “Shakespeare!”

So time and space was just an enormous sponge cake you got absorbed into? PINA—through Doors or his favourite mouthpiece, Brandon Dreyer, who was said to be the source of the corporation’s weird poetry—claimed that this new tech had broken through the shell of perceived reality, which was like an egg they’d all been fertil­ized in. Now they ought to—had an obligation to —poke their heads through and look around. “The present is over!” PINA proclaimed.

Claudine had gone, and not come back. Marie imagined her— when she felt optimistic—walking around Elizabethan streets in rags.

“The present is over!”

One by one, sometimes in groups of two, sometimes whole families together, the people disappeared. The slogan was meant to persuade them that it was passé to live in the here and now, but it had ended up being prescient. This present, this reality, the original reality, was kaput. All things had ground to a halt. You didn’t notice people disappearing until one day the streets seemed hollowed out, the space between one person and the next walking down the side­walk had grown too long. The gaps were everywhere. Marie’s shop door stopped chiming its happy heave-ho. The newspaper in the stand outside was three days old. Then four days. Then five.

Everyone in the group had reasons to grieve. At first the gather­ings at the church had been like AA meetings. Hi, I’m Marie, and I’ve been left behind. Today I was thinking about how much I miss the smell of street meat. Hi, I’m Lillian, and I’ve been left behind. Will I ever get another letter in the mail? Hi, I’m Bonita, and Hi, I’m Philip, and Hi, I’m Rosa, and Hi, I’m Mo.

Editorial Reviews

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 AMAZON CANADA FIRST NOVEL AWARD

“Like all good science fiction, The Amateurs ably carries the weight of analogy: the grand themes of technology and what we’ve done to our planet and ourselves.” —Toronto Star

“Harmer’s description of the effects of the changed world, and how these characters perceive it, resonates deeply. . . . It’s a metaphorically rich concept, and Harmer keeps a solid balance between the ambiguity and the world-building. . . . This novel weds a high concept to an abundance of heart; like the mysterious passages in it, it’s hard to shake.” —TOR.com

“Harmer takes cues from Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy in this sharp debut, a cautionary tale of tech gone astray.” —Toronto Life
 
“In her near perfect debut novel, Liz Harmer taps into current anxieties about technology to explore themes of transcendence, post-urbanity, and survival. . . . Harmer’s prose and pacing are elegant and precise, her characters distinct and engaging. . . . The novel’s dystopian setting is fully realized . . . nearly every conceivable question about the post-port world is addressed with grace and subtlety. . . . [The Amaterus] captivates right up to its final page.” —Quill & Quire
 
“[A] stunningly powerful work of post-apocalyptic fiction that examines our sense of reality and deals with the ultimate questions of where we came from and where we’re headed.” —The Hamilton Spectator
 
“Deeply original, The Amateurs is tense and fast-paced, exploring what happens when technology and desire meet in a world that doesn’t seem so different from ours.” —This Magazine

The Amateurs is sly and smart, unsettled and unsettling, a bold probe into our age’s grand seduction. An astonishing debut by a dazzling new voice.” —Charles Foran

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