Microserfs – Douglas Coupland

Photobucket

A few months ago I read and enjoyed Coupland’s jPod novel. In a number of reviews jPod was described as the logical successor to his previous novel Microserfs.

The plot synopsis (from wikipedia)

The novel begins with a glimpse into the lives of employees of Microsoft: the people that create the technology that sits on the majority of office desks in the world. Microsoft is portrayed as having a feudalistic structure, with Bill Gates as its lord and the employees as Microserfs. The characters, most of them in their early or mid-twenties, share the same workplace and home in the Seattle area. They decry their employment situation and the effects it has on their social lives: their daily schedules are dictated by software product cycles.

When one of them decides to leave Microsoft and found a software company to create a Lego-like software toy called “Oop!” (a reference to object-oriented programming), the others jump at the opportunity to join him in California. They leave behind stability and job security for the relative unknowns of a start-up company. The characters are driven not only by the chance that their software product will be financially successful, but also by the chance to be “One-Point-Oh”: “To be the first to do the first version of something”. The novel examines the effects on their personal lives of their struggle to obtain venture capital and bring their software to market. Also, as one character alluded, the change of cultures from Microsoft to Silicon Valley triggers the group to grow and blossom as individuals.

Like jPod the book is in the form of a journal kept by Daniel one of the characters, it also has odd pages of random gibberish and a few easter eggs of encoded messages. It describes the period in the IT industry that occurred just before the dot-com bubble burst.

It was an enjoyable read and I can highly recommend it, it is funny, poignant and clever.

Surveillance – Jonathan Raban

Surveillance

SPOILERS WARNING!

I saw this book in the on-approval section of my library and must admit I was attracted to it by the numerous positive quotes from reviews that adorn both the front, back and inside covers . But after reading the book I did wonder whether I had read the same book, or the copy I had was somehow missing the second half!!?

It starts well enough with the aftermath of a terrorist attack, which after a couple of pages turns out to be an elaborate and expensive civil defence exercise. This is one of the main themes of the book, nothing is exactly what it seems. America is in the grip of paranoia, no one takes anything on trust any more.

The main character is Lucy a journalist attempting to find out if a reclusive author really lived through the wartime events he described in his best-selling book, she and her daughter befriend him and discover his reclusiveness is actually a marketing ploy.

Unknown to Lucy, the new landlord of her building is watching and secretly lusting after her while her friend digs into the past of the landlord to see if he has stolen a dead man’s identity. At her daughter’s school a stereotypical hacker unleashes a virus that causes widespread disruption, his motivation solely to become famous. All the time in the background the State watches it’s citizens and liberty are curtailed by increasing security measures. Everyone spies and everyone is spied on.

300 odd pages in and the characters and paranoid atmosphere have all been developed nicely, but nothing has really happened and just when it starts to get interesting, the author kills the story stone dead with an earthquake!

The ending left me feeling cheated. Nothing is resolved and it just finishes as if the author Jonathan Raban lost interest. The ending is probably meant to be meaningful and arty but I fail to see it. As some other reviewer said “what promised to be a great book, but turned out to be a damp squib.” – I agree!

More Douglas Coupland Novels – “The Gum Thief” and “Hey, Nostradamus!”

Photobucket

Just had a nice cup of tea and finished reading The Gum Thief the latest novel by Douglas Coupland. My interest in Coupland’s work was triggered by the JPod TV series and the original novel I recently read.

I found JPod to be very accessible probably due to the technology based subject matter but this book was a little more work. I suspect I have got out of the habit of reading and when I have read in the past it tends to be the usual sci-fi or horror genre.

Never the less, The Gum Thief is filled with clever observations and Coupland’s sense of humor. The plot, and there isn’t one really is about an overweight 20 something Goth girl (Bethany) who develops an unlikely friendship with an alcoholic, aspiring author (Roger) when she finds his journal and starts corresponding with him. Roger is a mid-40’s burnout working a customer service job at a Staples. He is divorced, still in shock from the death of one of his children, and trying to find meaning in a life that’s over half gone.

The book is made up entirely of documents written by the characters in the novel including Roger’s journal entries, his novel in progress “Glove Pond”, letters, creative writing essays, and email messages. Something called an epistolary novel I have since discovered. Bethany and later on her mother DeeDee convince Roger to finish “Glove Pond” which is frankly terrible, and initially I found these parts difficult to read, but perseverance paid off.

The Gum Thief is a work about growing older and coping with life when things don’t turn out the way you planned. It is also about loneliness and isolation and highlights the way that people can often express ourselves more openly with strangers or on the written page.

Whether I would recommend this book I am not sure, but I did find it a worthwhile read.

Interestingly design house Crush Inc have created a series of video projects based on the book that appear on Coupland’s own website.

Photobucket

The other Coupland book in my local library was “Hey, Nostradamus!” which I finished reading on Saturday, my wife has commented on my rediscovered love of books. I have not watched much TV of late, probably a reaction to losing the satellite TV. Actually enjoying sitting reading, listening to music and drinking the odd class of whisky in the evening.

Hey Nostadamus! is apparently Coupland’s most critically acclaimed work. First published in 2003 the novel comprises of four first-person narratives, each from the perspective of a character directly or indirectly impacted by a fictional 1988 school shooting in suburban Vancouver. The novel touches on many issues, including adolescent love, sex, religion and grief. For a plot summation I suggest you read the wikipedia entry.

I found the first narrative, which described the actual shooting from the viewpoint of Cheryl one of the victims, the most engaging but must admit I found the other sections a bit hard-going and not very enjoyable. I did contemplate giving up and re-reading it at a later date.

I think I will give Coupland a rest for now and will hunt out a copy of Microserfs to read in the future.

Who Moved My Blackberry

Photobucket

Just finished my latest book, courtesy of Nottinghamshire Libraries, Who Moved My Blackberry is an interesting novel. The story is told from the viewpoint of the main character, Martin Lukes, in the form of email messages to his boss, his secretary, his wife, his son, his career coach and his best friend.

The character of Martin Lukes was first introduced by Lucy Kellaway in her column for the Financial Times. Her column has poked fun at management fads and jargon and celebrated the ups and downs of office life.

I have never read the Financial Times, or read Kellaway’s column and I admit the geeky reason I picked up the book in the library was because it had the word Blackberry on it.

Martin Lukes (listed as the co-author), is a forty-something middle manager striving to break into the top ranks of corporate life. He is viciously ambitious, he thinks he’s great fun, he thinks he’s got a terrific sense of humour, he is desperately un-PC and is absolutely clueless about his shortcomings.

It took me a while to get into the style of writing, and I have never actually experienced the business environment described, but it was worth the effort as it is very funny.

You can read an excerpt here.