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This review is from: Player One (Hardcover)
The Massey Lectures are an annual event in Canada where noted scholars give week long lectures on political, social, cultural, or philosophical topics. Douglas Coupland's contributions to these lectures is, rather than a standard long essay, the novel "Player One". The novel is divided up into 5 "hours" where the novel happens in real time and during the lecture week Doug will read 1 "hour" a day. For the rest of us who aren't going to the Massey Lectures we have this book.
Four strangers stranded in a second rate airport lounge unexpectedly find themselves sheltering in it for their lives after Armageddon happens outside. The price of oil skyrockets bringing all transport to a screeching halt and all semblance of civilisation comes to an end. The four strangers are an alcoholic bartender, a single mother on an internet date, a disaffected preacher who stole $20,000 from his church fund, and a young woman with autism. Then there is the fifth character, the strange "Player One" who narrates the events from a distance. But what is going to happen to them? Will they survive this disaster? What about the rest of the human race, and the planet?
The novel will be quite familiar to those who've read Coupland before. There are a number of issues that his characters address that he's addressed in previous novels: humans and their impact on the planet, human culture, the meaning of life, religion, the afterlife, the Smiths, and identity. But given the context of this novel, this summary of Doug's career is what the Massey Lectures is about - the speaker's views on these big issues. In that sense the book is a success with the novel displaying a number of Doug's ideas as well as his storytelling ability and sense of humour.
But as a new novel...? It feels kind of contrived. Take the premise that Armageddon is brought about by overpriced oil. Would this happen? First of all, yes we are going to run out of oil but not for a while and we have the time and knowledge to develop alternate fuel sources. There won't be a breakdown of society in this hysterical fashion. Then there's the fact that despite a number of interesting incidents happening - one of which is a sniper on a rooftop - the novel never really held my attention. It's all about the characters chatting about these big issues and so there is a lot of lofty assertions made without the story ever really changing. So it's kind of dull to read as the story is mostly static. The characters are also never really that interesting. They sound more or less like any of Doug's characters from previous novels.
There's also 30 pages of Doug-isms, that is words or phrases Doug has coined and a definition to go with it, like the footnotes from "Generation X". They're not that clever (nothing to match the catchiness of "McJob" or "Gen X") and clustered together as they are at the back, it just feels a bit heavy-handed.
What is to become of us? Probably not the extremes posed in this book nor is our planet as doomed as Coupland would like to think. It's not a great book following the brilliant "Generation A" but it's not a bad read. Because Coupland throws in so many ideas and thoughts that there's always going to be something for everyone but it feels like a short story stretched to novel length and as such is a bit dull. Game Over. Continue? 9, 8, 7, 6....