Friday, November 17, 2006

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

I cannot think of any other contemporary author who has had the word 'zeitgeist' used in more reviews of his books than Douglas Coupland. I first encountered him a decade or so ago when I read 'Generation X' (1991). I liked it, although I did find it painfully trying to be truly 'of the moment'. Published four years later 'Microserfs' (1995) - the story of a bunch of coders who break free from Microsoft to start up their own company - seems to suffer from the same problem. Again, I did enjoy it to a certain degree.

There are moments of humour - the hunt for 'flat food' to slip under the crack of the door in order to feed a coder who has gone mentally AWOL after a bad meeting with 'Bill'. The irony of the 'we are changing the world' attitude of the start-up coders when all they are really doing is creating a program which allows you to build things out of virtual lego. The lack of connection with the reality of life despite all their efforts to become more rounded human beings. Unfortunately, the cheesy ending did kill the charm of it for me - Mum has stroke and learns to communciate again through the computer - too Hollywood.

This was a book chosen by my reading group - the Illiteracy Club - and, considering how negative the group has been about a lot of the recent offerings, I was a little worried about this one. The interesting thing is, although no one was wild about the book, it did get us on to a good discussion on whether a book that is so about a particular moment in culture/time, stay a good book for all time. We were all a bit sceptical about the staying power of 'Microserfs', feeling that it would survive only as a curiosity, not as a great work of literature - or even a 'good read'.

As the plan for the next few months' reading of the 'Illiteracy Club' is to try and read pairs of books which connect or contrast in some way, as a companion for 'Microserfs', we came up with 'Bonfire of the Vanities' by Tom Wolfe. Although I've read (and immensely enjoyed) 'Bonfire' before, I'm interested to see if the other members agree that it is a book which stands the test of time.

No comments: