Vancouver's Douglas Coupland defined youth in the early '90s with works like Generation X and Shampoo Planet, coaxing deeper meanings from a tech-obsessed generation's collective neuroses. Nearly 15 years later, Coupland faces the question: Will he become obsolete, or merely retro, like some adored but aging game console from childhood?
The author's latest, JPod (Bloomsbury; hardcover, $24), clearly challenges his ability to stay current. A self-proclaimed update on Microserfs, Coupland's 1995 look at computer-industry drones, Jpod revisits familiar themes, chronicling six 20-something videogame coders looking for spiritual nourishment while building a corporate-controlled skateboarding game.
In many ways, it's information overload. Never missing a chance to riff on trends and technology, the author relishes the chance to intelligently toy with marijuana co-ops, fast-food mascots, Chinese industry, and even Douglas Coupland, inserting a slightly sadistic take on himself–Charlie Kaufmann-style–into the novel. In an interview on the official Jpod website, he claims the self-inclusion is his response to Google and online archives that won't disappear. But the whole novel reads like a response from an all-powerful search engine–it's a set of searchword-connected storylines that cover exceptional amounts of cultural ground with very little depth. It all seems rushed and slightly shallow–then again, maybe that is the cultural zeitgeist, something Coupland has always captured.