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Jpodby Douglas Coupland
Synopses & Reviews
Very evil....very funny. A lethal joyride into today's new breed of technogeeks, Douglas Coupland's new novel updates Microserfs for the age of Google.
Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers are bureaucratically marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver video game design company. The six JPodders wage daily battle against the demands of a boneheaded marketing staff, who daily torture employees with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Meanwhile, Ethan's personal life is shaped (or twisted) by phenomena as disparate as Hollywood, marijuana grow-ops, people-smuggling, ballroom dancing, and the rise of China.
JPod's universe is amoral and shameless — and dizzyingly fast-paced. The characters are products of their era even as they're creating it. Everybody in Ethan's life inhabits a moral grey zone. Nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly straitlaced parents or Coupland himself. Full of word games, visual jokes, and sideways jabs, this book throws a sharp, pointed lawn dart into the heart of contemporary life. JPod is Douglas Coupland at the top of his game.
"Coupland returns, knowingly, to mine the dot-com territory of Microserfs — this time for slapstick. Young Ethan Jarlewski works long hours as a video-game developer in Vancouver, surfing the Internet for gore sites and having random conversations with co-workers on JPod, the cubicle hive where he works, where everyone's last name begins with J. Before Ethan can please the bosses and the marketing department (they want a turtle, based on a reality TV host, inserted into the game Ethan's been working on for months) or win the heart of co-worker Kaitlin, Ethan must help his mom bury a biker she's electrocuted in the family basement which houses her marijuana farm; give his dad, an actor desperately longing for a speaking part, yet another pep talk; feed the 20 illegal Chinese immigrants his brother has temporarily stored in Ethan's apartment; and pass downtime by trying to find a wrong digit in the first 100,000 places (printed on pages 383-406) of pi. Coupland's cultural name-dropping is predictable (Ikea, the Drudge Report, etc.), as is the device of bringing in a fictional Douglas Coupland to save Ethan's day more than once. But like an ace computer coder loaded up on junk food at 4 a.m., Coupland derives his satirical, spirited humor's energy from the silly, strung-together plot and thin characters. Call it Microserfs 2.0." Publishers weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A dozen years ago, in one of its trademark alarming cover stories, Time magazine announced there was a 'Battle for the Soul of the Internet.' Well, the war rages on. Sometimes the Web feels like nothing more than an online strip mall, littered with advertisements, corporate home pages, porn, celebrity gossip and day-trading portals. And yet, where else can one access the complete text of Shakespeare's... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) plays — free — in less than a second? The verdict is out on how this will affect today's youth, but if the twenty-somethings at the heart of Douglas Coupland's latest novel, 'JPod,' are any kind of test case, things don't look so hot. Nominally employed as video-game designers at a Vancouver firm, Coupland's cast spends hours trawling the Web. They auction themselves off on eBay, write enormously inappropriate letters to Ronald McDonald, download all manner of music files and Google incessantly. When a marketing executive at their company turns the sophisticated game they are working on into SpriteQuest, a product placement vehicle for the soft drink, they exact revenge by embroidering a homicidal Ronald McDonald into the game's code. 'I've noticed that, as we ramp up on our game-building skills and generalized knowledge about Ronald,' says Ethan Jarlewski, the novel's dry-humored narrator who spends lot of time creating a vivid back story for their evil Ronald McDonald, 'we're Googling every ten minutes. The problem is, after a week of intense Googling, we've started to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. God must feel that way all the time. I think people in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless.' In many ways, 'JPod' hews to this generation's particular sense of ennui. Overinformed but undereducated, Coupland's characters have a reason to be agitated. The dot-com bubble has burst, so their jobs are no longer glamorous, revolutionary or even lucrative. Outsourcing is on the rise. All they have is their bulletproof sense of irony to protect them from their incipient expendability. 'JPod' enshrines this attitude in prose that is aggressively clever and yet oddly forgettable. As with Coupland's previous novel 'Microserfs,' a dense stream of corporate slogans, product names, code and blank company messages appear every few pages, all of which aptly re-creates the yards of junk corporate workers receive daily in their e-mail. How the jPodders withstand this barrage is far more important than the plot, which is so outlandish it suggests the improbable arc of a video game: Ethan's mother is a pot dealer with a Betty Crocker demeanor; his father a struggling actor with a yen for ballroom dancing. They befriend a Chinese gangster named Kam Fong, who operates a people-smuggling ring between Vancouver and China. At one point Kam falls in love with Ethan's mother, who can be ruthless when someone gets between her and one of her marijuana plants. When the jPodders' boss goes missing, Ethan rightly suspects Kam and tracks his boss down in China, where he has been sold into slave labor. Coupland appears throughout the book in cameos — on airplanes, in China, in other people's conversations — nudging the whole thing along as if he were a guide to this bizarre world. It's not clear why Coupland decided to give the book's narrative such a slapstick plot, but for reasons I still cannot quite fathom, I enjoyed its silliness. Nor did his characters' armchair philosophizing bother me the way it has in the past. Coupland's point is that identity, as young people experience it today, is a hoax, a marketing ploy that encourages them to buy into the hip factor of soft drinks, CDs and constant entertainment. The result? 'You're a depressing assemblage of pop culture influences and canceled emotions,' Ethan's girlfriend tells him, and so is this book. It's not talking down to youth to allow them to speak this way in fiction. After all, in the real world, young people like those who appear in Coupland's novels are meant to decode pop culture for what's hot and what's not, then go purchase whatever is necessary to put them on the right side of the divide. Coupland's cast here has long understood this, and so its members wield the only weapon they have left against pop culture — their boredom. Like Kurt Vonnegut, though not quite so vividly, Coupland is giving the youth of North America the benefit of the doubt. He has presented them with a wake-up call in the only way they can handle it: wrapped in a crust of irony so thick anyone under 40 is likely to find it inedible. So if you're still using dial-up, you might want to skip this one. But if you're constantly online, tune out, turn off and dial down — and try reading on paper for once. You might find 'JPod' strikes a little close to home." Reviewed by John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"At times it reads like the textual equivalent of a 1980's-era Nintendo game: a virtual playground where Coupland's more irritatingly mannered habits run amok. But when it works, JPod is a sleek and necessary device: the finely tuned output of an author whose obsolescence is thankfully years away." New York Times
"JPod may not age well; like the culture that it teases, it's cheap, goes down easy and may be ultimately disposable. But, like Andy Warhol's soup can, it might turn out to be more than meets the eye." Rocky Mountain News
"As both actual and cyber mayhem crest, Coupland, himself a character in this rampaging comedy, reminds us that no matter how seductive the virtual realm is, it is real life that requires our keenest attention." Booklist
"At this point...criticizing Coupland for too many pop-culture and trademarked-name references is as tired as dismissing the Rolling Stones simply for being old. Perhaps it's time to admire his virtuoso tone and how he has refined it over 11 novels." USA Today
Six co-workers are bureaucratically marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver video-game-design company. Full of word games, visual jokes, and sideways jabs, this book throws a sharp, pointed lawn dart into the heart of contemporary life.
About the Author
Coupland is a contributing editor to Wired and has been contributor to The New York Times and The New Republic.
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