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Not sure how I came upon this, but the review mentioned a prequel so I read that first. This is one of the best written novels in this genre that I've read in a long while. I've given it 4 stars because some of the processes and the science involved are too accelerated and compressed to be believable. All the bits are all too believable, but having so many things happening in a shirt time frame is not.
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.
4.0 out of 5 starsA JOLTING BUT BELIEVABLE DYSTOPIA
Reviewed in the United States on 10 February 2018
BARNES, Eric. The City Where We Once Lived: A Novel. Arcade. Mar. 13, 2018. 244p. $24.99. "But nothing changed. The end still came."
In this near-future world, in an unknown but probably Midwestern, things have finally come undone. Minus the futuristic touches, it reminded me more than anything of Detroit a mere decade or two past. The narrator is one of two or three thousand people still living in the South End of the city, the waterside half of a failed megalopolis. The pols overcommitted. Developers left perfectly usable buildings to build new housing and shopping centers out in the burbs. Soon they too were unoccupied. The narrator writes of the city's sad and avoidable past:
"One more story for the paper. One more history of economic boom and eventual decline. … a company that made engines for which there is no longer any demand. The decline of people who could not manage the wasted by-products of industrial success. A pool of mercury. Vats of a tan and creamy substance frozen in thick whirls. Abandoned engine blocks too many for me to count, ten by ten by ten is a thousand and the piles I find far exceed any quick measurement I can make. Roads and rail lines and canals …."
The roads and levees are falling apart and while the utilities still work in the abandoned part of the city, little else does. The narrator takes photos and writes copy for the one local newspaper. Someone somewhere still delivers rolls of paper and printing supplies to the newspaper and pays the narrator a stipend, which is enough to live on given his reduced needs. He chronicles the South Side house by house, with snapshots and archival research into the history of these old, richly storied and now abandoned dwellings. Between times, he goes out to set fire to abandoned houses. Yes, it's arson but the compulsion ties into his backstory, which is … jolting and sad.
The city government hasn't wholly abandoned the half where he lives. There's a commission that meets monthly to discuss measures to bring the city back. But there's no money to do anything and really, no interest in doing it, for the commissioners all live in the other half of the city, in gated, safe, fat communities. But now their life there is coming unraveled too. The skies are always overcast, there's no sunlight, trees and plants all die. Untended, the levees are breaking up so there's flooding. When the next to the last levee breaks, the flood waters rise so high that people are drowning in the safe, but level low lands of the "safe" North Side. Its' people flee to the old city, looking for safety in its higher elevations and tall buildings, at least until the water goes down.
By the end of the book, there are some hopeful signs, but don't expect much. It's payback time for Mother Nature.
4.0 out of 5 starsSlowly makes a point and looks at humanity through one man's drudgery in a dead city
Reviewed in the United States on 28 January 2018
This is actually quite a strange story, but in a good way. It opens with an assumption that the reader must simply delve into the world with no questions asked about where, when or why for several chapters. It's very rare that an author can pull this off, but it works pretty well here.
The entire story is told in a conversational tone by one man as he slowly, very slowly shuffles through his day to day activities in a skeleton city collapsing around him. The location is never revealed - I pictured it as a mix of Baltimore and Detroit because of the large industrial manufacturing debris and the levees and bay system. There is really no action going on, just first person view of a dead city with a weird, tenuous link to the rest of civilization that is slowly disintegrating along with the buildings and residents. The last quarter of the book picks up the pace and the end makes complete sense. However, this just left me feeling depressed and annoyed rather than entertained.
4.0 out of 5 starsGood instrospective sci-fi novel
Reviewed in the United States on 25 February 2018
This was an enjoyable novel. Like many current science fiction books, it takes place in a not-too-distant future where climate change is taking a heavy toll. Unlike many novels, it doesn't make the future into a purely dystopian wasteland. Instead, we see a future in which bureaucracy and boredom are the two main enemies.
The book follows an un-named protagonist (in fact no one in the book has a name until the very end) who writes for a newspaper in a city that has been almost completely deserted. There's a twist with his back story that I didn't see coming, and it added a depth and complexity to the story that I really appreciated.