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3.1 out of 5 stars
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3.1 out of 5 stars
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I'm invariably first in line for the latest Douglas Coupland, and bought this just before a trip last year to Chicago and New York - which, by a blinding coincidence, are the two cities featured on the departure board shown on its cover. However, this tale is more about the disorientating effects of travel than any specific places: five unconnected people are passing through an airport bar when they find themselves stranded by events that might presage the end of the world - or, at the very least, a cataclysmic change in the way it works.

As the action progresses, the point of view shifts between the characters, giving us plenty of time in their heads as they muse on time, religion, the afterlife and the pursuit of happiness (the book's subtitle is "What is to become of us"). This isn't the first time Coupland's considered these themes, and you feel like you already partially know these flawed, suffering characters (which include the runaway priest, the beautiful autistic, the recovering alcoholic and the lonely middle-aged woman) from his previous books. Indeed, some of the things they say have been explicitly recycled from elsewhere (e.g. "What if God exists, but doesn't like people very much?", which comes from Eleanor Rigby). It doesn't really matter though, since these are clearly big ideas that need revisiting (if not re-expressing), and there are a few aspects of this tale that are decidedly original.

One of these is the use of the eponymous character Player One, who appears to exist as a disembodied voice that describes the past and future experiences of the other characters in a way that's reminiscent of an author, or the player of a video game. Another is the genesis of the novel as a lecture series, with each chapter (which covers an hour in the story) being delivered by Coupland as a one hour lecture in a different Canadian city in October 2010. Although touches such as this could, like the glossary of neologisms at the end of the book (e.g. "Frankentime: What time feels like when you realize that most of your life is being spent working with and around a computer and the Internet"), perhaps be viewed as gimmicks by readers who find themselves out of sympathy with the author's intentions, the book retained my attention as I read it in a couple of sittings, but its ideas (for example: exactly what do *you* think will happen when the oil runs out?) and images have stayed with me since putting it down.
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on 1 April 2017
Holiday reading
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on 4 November 2010
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....
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on 8 May 2013
I can't believe Coupland had the nerve to release this as a new book, let alone charge money for it. It is absolutely riddled with passages lifted unchanged from about 7 of his previous novels, and not nearly enough new content or ideas to justify a story. Ending is too abrupt and a cop-out. This is the sound of a barrel being scraped dry.
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on 8 November 2011
I was just about to purchase the book in a "A new Douglas Coupland book!" moment with excitement...only to realise that I have actually downloaded it on my kindle a couple of months ago....read it and totally forgot about it.

Coupland is a master of painting the psychological landscapes of characters faced with loss and the end of our civilization as we know it. However, this book looks more like a draft rather than a complete masterpiece (such as "Hey Nostradamus!" or "Girlfriend in a coma").

As I remember now...reading the book felt like watching episodes of Big Brother where the characters are stranded at an airport lobby because there is no petrol oil left on the planet. Of course the difference is that Coupland's characters always wear their existential issues on their sleeve and talk about them openly ...making them more humane than a lot of real people on TV. However, the book reads as a tv-series script rather than an oscar winning movie.
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on 16 October 2011
After reading only 8 pages of this book it began to become very obvious to me (as I assume it will to any Coupland fan) that there is a lot of content in this book which has been recycled from his previous novels.
For example: The 'rapture on a plane' section is paraphrased from The Gum Thief, and the yawning bird point is mentioned in that book too; Many, many ideas which were already used (more skilfully) in Eleanor Rigby (eg, Black stars during daylight, reaction to shopping for books about lonlieness, why money makes us feel good ... and so on). There are too many similarities to his previous novels, not only in terms of overarching themes (which is fair enough) but in smaller almost 'filler' sentences.

I really struggled trying to read this book without exclaiming in annoyance each time a recycled idea/sentence came round.

His previous novels thrown into a blender = a substantial amount of content from 'Player One'.

On a positive note the introduction of a character on the autistic spectrum was interesting, perhaps she is portrayed as too robotic though which didn't gel with the level of insight she seems to have about herself and others.

Overall, sadly not one of his best novels.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 October 2010
First of all, I love Douglas Coupland.
Well, I have finished "Player One" a few days ago and I was sad to admit to myself that it was not his best book. I mean, it's all repetitive: end of the world, is there God who still cares about us, we are all going to die anyway - his usual stuff sprinkled with the irony - and that's what I love about him, but come on! I read one review that said that he is finally at his best, at his "Generation X" best, and maybe that was my problem - I read "Generation X" and straight away I read "Player One" - maybe that's why it all felt like one long moan about consumerism and over-culture of the world we all live in, fateless creatures. And while it was something unheard of in the early nineties, well, now it's just kinda boring...
Once again, I love Mr Coupland and cannot wait for him to astonish me with his new books, like he did so many times before.
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on 5 August 2013
I borrowed this book from the library the moment it was released. I read about two thirds, got bored and skimmed the rest, so as to read the notes at the end. I've just borrowed it again and read it through in one sitting. I think Doug was highly aware of what he was doing when re-iterating observations from previous novels. It seems to coincide with the point in the narrative where he mentions deja vu. I think the point that Mr Coupland is making is that his characters inhabit a world in which he himself has defined over the span of his career and hence have become his character's consciousness. It creates that sense of a memory echo whilst reading that allegedly the amygdala creates.

I'm glad I gave the novel another chance, as the action starts at just the point I left the story. I like the real time aspect and the time overlap component of the perspective switching. I feel this aspect is very well realised and would work well filmed. I found the characters to be well individuated and Rachel proved to be very original and made for an interesting perspective. The book develops themes hinted at in Generation A and Jpod. Every character had their motive for being there and everything mentioned within the narrative had a reason for being there. The weakest character of them all - the blind date, serves only as a macguffin.

I found the concept of player one to be interesting, but blink and you'll miss the explanation. I had to check back after finishing to confirm just what it was. It serves as a godlike omniscient narrator, but in this case is a virtual avatar created by one of the characters. I'm not quite sure what this perspective adds to the story, and proved to be the weakest aspect. I found the ending to be somewhat unsatisfying. Maybe because I didn't quite fully understand it. A gunshot wounded Rachel seems to inhabit a kind of limbo, which turns out to be a cartoon black hole that Looney Tunes characters disappear into. Here, Rachel, who is unable to understand metaphors begins to understand them and gets a glimpse of our future as a human race before regaining consciousness and going on to lead a fulfilling life.

As usual Doug's similes and extended metaphors are original and vivid. It's more of an exercise than a full novel, which allows Doug to meditate and develop on his themes of humanity and god in a technical age. Following this is a glossary of neologisms. This is a real mixed bag. Some of these are very interesting and could realistically be adopted. Others are complete garbage, and it is these that undermine the others. It's all a little too technical and dense. Maybe it will make a little more sense to me in a few more years, if I can be bothered to study that much. Maybe I'll be able to order a few of the conditions from the DSM and get Doug to medicate me.
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on 15 October 2013
Player One is a typical Douglas Coupland novel that happened to have an atypical genesis. The Massey Lectures are an annual Canadian event during which a noted scholar gives a week-long series of lectures on a political, cultural or philosophical topic. In 2010, that scholar was Douglas Coupland. Coupland's contribution to the lecture series was the 50,000 word novel Player One, which he divided into five one-hour chunks. He read one hour per day and so Player One is billed as being a real-time novel since the action in the story also takes place over a five-hour period. Caveat emptor: it might well no longer be in real-time when you personally read it, but that's a risk you'll have to take.

Stuck in an airport cocktail lounge on the outskirts of Toronto for five hours as the oil price rockets and apocalyptic shenanigans rage in the world outside, five disparate characters are left with little to do but to talk to, and rage, at each other. The not-so-merry band of stranded travellers is made up of Karen, a single mother who has flown in to meet an online paramour; Luke, a pastor on the run after raiding the church roof repair fund; Rachel, a blonde bombshell and tragic ice queen; Rick, the bartender; and Player One, self-described as more of a voice than a soul. As the world unravels around them, the five begin to bond as they finally start to reveal their true selves.

Douglas Coupland certainly does love a good apocalypse. Perhaps this is because the apocalypses that he envisions are always fairly benign, at least for the central characters, allowing people to continue with their supermarket shopping in Generation X or to continue mixing drinks and mingling as here in Player One. While a bar might not be the worst place to be in an apocalypse, the five embedded drinkers here are treating it a tad too cautiously for any real sense of menace or impending doom to be created. It does provide a handy backdrop for the story though as the thoroughly modern crisis allows Coupland to work in the majority of his regular themes: faith, love, commercialism, society, alienation and the disposability of popular culture. This abundance of themes and ideas could well be tied in to the novel's originals as a lecture series rather than a singular plot for a book. Although the setting is new, Player One seems very familiar due to its thematic overlap with Coupland's previous novels and the similarity may well be too obvious even for long-term Coupland fans.

There aren't many characters involved in Player One but, even so, they are all unfortunately underdeveloped. Rachel is perhaps the most interesting character, struggling as she is with severe autism and a wholly mercenary search for a man to father her child, but she still remains rather gimmicky and implausible. The hollowness of the characters is particularly unfortunate since there is not much action in Player One, even the sniper manages to be a bit mundane, and strong characters would have done a lot to hold readers' interest in the story. Where Coupland does excel, as he has done with his previous novels, is in his use of dialogue. The more the world seems to be disintegrating, the more the characters seem to want to pontificate on the state of things and on their personal world views and they do have a lot of interesting things to say. They talk more in concepts than in cohesive conversations but the content is certainly thought-provoking. Coupland has also continued to expand his own personal dictionary and so, at the end of the book, there are several pages of explanations for his new buzz words.

Strangely, while being almost exactly the same as his other novels, Player One is most certainly not vintage Coupland. It does have some good moments and features some excellent discourse on the various maladies of modern society, but readers new to Coupland would be better off with one of his earlier works while fans might be better off waiting for his next novel to be released.
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on 20 February 2011
In true Coupland style this book brings together the banal ( an airport hotel bar) with the cataclysmic ( the end of civilisation). Into this mix are thrown some of Coupland's most interesting characters for years. A vicar on the run, a stunning, detached blonde, a middle-aged woman on an internet date and a reformed alcoholic bar tender. The novel is short on plot but the eclectic mix of people leads to though provoking muses on happiness, religion and fulfilment in the twenty first century. None of the characters feel real but in their own individual way they reflect the worries and concerns of all of us with an unnerving veracity.
As with most of Coupland's recent novels I'm left with mixed feelings. Is the lack of story a sign of unflinching genius or the sign of someone playing to their strengths? In the end I don't think it really matters - in a couple of hundred pages Coupland introduces more concepts than a lifetime of mainstream literature and delivers characters that you care for.
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