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Although it’s not said, this is a book that could easily happen with climate change. The 1st part of the book is a bit sad but still draws you in. The characters are interesting. There is eventually some hope of not for everyone. I would recommend this book.
Wow! How appropriate for our times. Climate change is real! And the scary part is that with all of the feedback loops in play, scientists aren't even sure how it will unfold: gradually or dramatically at a tipping point.
3.0 out of 5 starsIf you didn't like Station Eleven...
Reviewed in the United States on 27 February 2018
If, like me, you weren't that fond of Station Eleven, you may have a few issues with this book.
This is a literary soft apocalypse. I've found that, unlike Genre SF, Literary SF authors rarely worry about world building. Instead of delving into why things are happening, and using real science as a backdrop to fiction, Literary SF seems more like: This is my world and thus it is so. Accept it and let's talk about beauty and despair.
And, so, with a nod toward climate change, a beautiful turn of phrase, and many characters stuck in a robotic rut of despair and apathy, we have our world.
Almost all of our characters live by rote. They do exactly as they did before their world fell apart. Why? Because it's what they do. They don't know why they still go through the motions and they don't much care.
Our main character once did a terrible thing - really just about the most terrible thing ever - and still he goes day to day doing the same things in the same ways.
We don't know much about the rest of the world. We've been told there are no plants (there is an addendum to this later in the book) and the very ground may kill. Why? Climate change. How do they live in place without plants to create oxygen? Um...climate change? Why is the electricity still on? Apathy. Why is there running water still? Apathy. Why does someone still pay the newspaper reporter? Apathy and habit.
Eventually, our main character begins to move past apathy and habit (though never despair) and we contemplate civilization and how what really determines a civilized world is...what? People who don't feel enough to actually hate? Who help others because they must and because it's right, but with little joy or empathy?
I didn't hate the book. I didn't love the book. In fact, the apathy experienced by so many of its characters perhaps describes my feelings here. The book simply was because it...was.
4.0 out of 5 starsI'm appreciative of Eric Barnes commitment to his tone and vision
Reviewed in the United States on 28 January 2018
This was a book that sort of sneaks up on you...for the first 50 pages or so I was moderate intrigued/slightly bored, but as I got into it, and invested with the nameless narrator I started to buy in.
The dystopia is not that plausible and yet totally plausible, and unlike fiction that tries really hard to say "look how realistic this is!" author Eric Barnes does not worry about that. The sort of surreal feel is acceptable. I'd have to look again but I'm pretty sure nobody is ever named in the book (until the end), rather everybody is identified by titles - the cop, the commissioner, the minister - and it maintains a detached feel.
It is a slow march to disarray - which feels like the world we live in. If you think of a place like Love Canal, what if people there had said, "eh, I'm not leaving," (and pretend that power stayed on) this is what it would have looked like. Realistic? No, of course not. But plausible? Yes.
I think readers who need more action/less reflection will not enjoy it. They'll keep waiting for "something" to happen, and nothing ever will - rather, like I said, it's that slow march to a new day. Barnes doesn't deviate - there's no shocking twist, no surprises - he commits to his vision, both in tone and content throughout. I liked reading a book where I wasn't waiting for a shoe to drop.
If you're interested in a dystopian reflection on what the end of days will look like, when the water rises, when people find *new* ways to come together in a different kind of community, then I think you'd appreciate it. If you find a way to read the 10 pages I think you'll have a good enough idea of tone/content to know if you'd want to keep reading.
5.0 out of 5 starsA dystopian tale of a climate-changed world
Reviewed in the United States on 17 January 2018
Eric Barnes' "The City Where We Once Lived" blew me away. From the moment I picked it up, I continued to be drawn back to it. The narrator, the unnamed inhabitant of the abandoned, ruined city he refuses to leave, had invited me into his nightmare, and I could not refuse.
The story he tells us is one of atrophy. Not only of a city ruined by the ravages of climate change - very much caused or exacerbated by humans - but of the narrator himself, a broken man, a man who goes through the motions of a life that is not his so he does not have to remember the life that was.
The city where he once lived is a North End separated from the South by a highway. His family is dead. Most of the inhabitants, all but a couple of thousand, have abandoned the North End while rising sea levels claim the coast and neglect the rest.
He tells us his story - and the story of the city but not the wider world about which he is not the least curious - in the first person, in the present tense, as it is happening. He does not tell us who he is, and reveals details about his life only sparingly, telling us little more than he tells the other characters in his story. He does not want to know what is happening to the rest of the world. His own pain is enough. Like Tolkien's Tom Bombadil, he has created a little corner all for himself and he keeps himself rigidly inside those boundaries.
It is a story that is both beautifully and hauntingly told, a story of loss and also of memory, that reminds me of some of the East European literature I read in college before the end of the Soviet occupation.
It is, at its heart, a dystopian tale, but it is not a story that takes place after a civilization-ending catastrophe, but a story about a catastrophe that is in the process of taking place, and of the human response to it. It is also, paradoxically, a hopeful story, as we see people at their best, as they cope with the changes around them.
It is a story that will make you think. It will also make you feel something, and that is the best kind of story there is. I very much enjoyed The City Where We Once Lived. If you like dystopian fiction, by all means, give it a try. Five stars.