Books·Canadian

The Amateurs

Time travel devices are fuelled by nostalgia in Liz Harmer's post-apocalyptic tale, The Amateurs.

Liz Harmer

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 thirty-something 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 debut about what happens when technology meets desire. (From Knopf Canada)

Why Liz Harmer wrote The Amateurs

"At the centre of The Amateurs is a product called 'port' — a portal that a tech company creates and releases to the public before all the kinks are out. The world that we enter at the beginning of the novel is a world in which almost everyone has gone through portals out of the present. Whether they can come back, whether it's wise to go through the portals — these are the dilemmas the survivors face.

What fascinates me about it is thinking through how you might live if all of the things that determine our lives went away.- Liz Harmer

"One key element in The Amateurs is the depiction of people as fumbling, hapless and bewildered, but ultimately lovable. An amateur to me is a combination of all of those things. It's somebody who screws things up, but is well-intentioned — there's an optimism to that.

"I feel the post-apocalyptic novel is a thought experiment. What fascinates me about it is thinking through how you might live if all of the things that determine our lives went away. How would we live? You're kind of boiling the big questions of life down."

Read more in Liz Harmer's interview with The Next Chapter.

From the book

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. 


From The Amateurs by Liz Harmer ©2018. Published by Vintage Canada.

Interviews with Liz Harmer

Liz Harmer on her debut novel, "The Amateurs," set in a future when technology has made it possible to travel back in time. 2:04

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