JPod Paperback – 5 Jun 2006
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Humming with life and very, very funny. -- Scottish Sunday Herald
Jpod is a sleek and necessary device: the finley tuned output of an author whose is thankfully years away. -- New York Times Review of Books
Ethan Jarlewski and five co-workers whose surnames end in 'J' are bureaucratically marooned in JPod. JPod is a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive Vancouver game design company. The six workers daily confront the forces that define our era: global piracy, boneheaded marketing staff, people smuggling, the rise of China, marijuana grow-ops, Jeff Probst, and the ashes of the 1990s financial tech dream. JPod's universe is amoral and shameless. 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.See all Product description
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It is very similar in many ways to Microserfs in style and characters except that in this work the characters are simply 1 dimensional projections of their equivalents in Microserfs, projected onto a ridiculous plot that involves a version of Coupland himself, for no obvious reason.
Having said that, once you get over the fact it's going nothing to do with Microserfs, and managed to cope with annoyance that much of the stylistic brilliance you loved in Microserfs is in here simply regurgitated and cheapened it is quite an amusing read and whilst I may not actually recommend it I wouldn't caution people not to read it.
The story isn't in a huge amount of depth, and focuses on minute aspects of day to day life such as finding in `O' in 20 pages of random numbers, and the main characters relationships with his colleagues, his weed growing mother, ballroom dancing rather and people smuggling Chinese housemate.
The one downside of the book for me was the author placing himself into the story. In my eyes it wasn't needed and could as easily have worked as another character.
I'm finding it quite hard to review this book because it's quite unlike what I normally read, and I cannot easily explain why I enjoyed it. It's a combination of everyday life and the weirdness of the workplace. The best thing would be for you to read it and make you own mind up. Some people will love it and others hate it.
I don't know if Coupland includes himself in the narrative of his other books, but I found his appearance in jPod rather cheesy and, again, unnecessary. I believe the story would have been at least unaffected, at most enhanced, by replacing Coupland (or his evil twin persona, whatever) with another character playing the exact same role. I found his self-inclusion an indulgence, but maybe I missed some nuance or finer point he was trying to make here.
Having read jPod after seeing the excellent TV series, I was disappointed. If I'd read the book first, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the TV show - and that would have been a damn shame.
I found the stream-of-consciousness passages much more interesting. These are extended meditations on subjects like marketing, technology, pod life and gaming, which make extensive use of what I can only describe as the language of the web. For example, he intersperses words from adult sites ("Blondes. Bondage. Brunettes. Celebrities.") with instructions from bulletin boards ("You may not post new threads. You may not post replies."). These passages also include the smart observations that Coupland specialises in ("It's quite easy to tell which text has been typed by someone living in the Indian subcontinent because they all too frequently forget to put spaces after periods or commas. Only damaged people want good things to happen to them through visualization. If you can control your emotions, chances are you don't have too many.")
Of course, there's the story as well, but I didn't really think this was so stimulating, especially when compared to his other work. This book has been viewed by some as a sequel to his excellent Microserfs, but at times it reads as an update, or replacement, for that book (i.e. you're intended to read one or the other, but not both). Perhaps I've become over-familiar with his work, but it felt as if he was drawing on a cast of characters (the geek, the tough but sensitive girl, the lesbian, the dysfunctional parents) and plot elements (the dead body, the romance, the marketing meeting, the Chinese sweatshop) that have become standard for him. And maybe I'm missing something, but I couldn't find anything funny or diverting in the offhand way that one of the characters became addicted to heroin, and then appeared to treat it as a good thing.
However, the story still contains moments of coruscating brilliance: my favourite comes when the hero is wondering how electrons exist in isolation, and his podmate, without even looking up, just says "Quarks, aisle three" - a gnomic putdown that combines technical detail (not that electrons and quarks have much to do with each other in reality) and cultural allusion in a way that completely sums up the breadth of Coupland's abilities and obsessions.