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Archive for the ‘Douglas Coupland’ Category

Is there anything more fascinating than the end of the world or, at the very least, society as we know it?  I’ve loved apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction ever since my father first handed me an old, beaten up copy of Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle when I was thirteen or fourteen.  Part of the reason I’m drawn to Douglas Coupland is because he seems to share this fascination: he’s certainly touched on it in several of his previous novels and with Player One: What Is to Become of Us it takes center stage.

A story told in five hours, from five perspectives (though only four characters), Player One contains a typical Coupland assortment of oddballs and losers trapped in a suitably bleak airport hotel cocktail lounge.  Even at the best of times, is there anywhere more depressing than the hub of soulless hotels, restaurants, and bars that encircle any modern airport?  Having found myself trapped repeatedly in these places, I know only too well the loss of identity that a traveler can feel surrounded by inoffensive, forgettable décor, remarkable only for its complete lack of distinguishing characteristics.  And that is where our main characters, supplemented by several welcome and unwelcome visitors, find themselves as the world as they know it comes to an end.

Trapped inside the lounge are Karen, a single mother who flew in to Toronto to meet a man she met online in a Peak Oil Apocalypse chat room; Rick, the lounge bartender and alcoholic; Luke, a pastor who stole his congregation’s savings and fled; and Rachel, also known as Player One, a teenage Hitchcock-esque blonde incapable of normal human interaction, determined to get pregnant to prove her humanity.  They’re a strange lot and it is through their eyes that we witness a rather eventful five hours as oil prices hit unimaginable heights and society, as a result, descends into anarchy.  I am incredibly appreciative that the crisis is economic rather than a more clichéd catastrophic natural disaster or act of war/terrorism. 

The novel, perhaps disappointingly for some, doesn’t have that much to do with the chaos happening outside the lounge.  Trapped inside, the characters ponder many things – including human identity, religion, ethics, and the afterlife – little of which have much to do with their new reality.  It’s an interesting character study and I was fully engaged while I was reading it, particularly with the strange but wonderful Rachel.  Perhaps the most interesting question raised was ‘what is it to be human?’  Given that this was written for the Massey Lectures, the entire point of which is the discussion of ideas, I say that it was a success as even now, weeks after finishing the book, I’m still pondering some of the questions it raised. 

Coupland clearly has an idea of what this new world will look like, where oil will never go below $350 a barrel, as he has created a complete glossary or “Future Legend” for the New Normal.  With such a complex vision of what the future will look like, it seems strange that it’s merely tacked onto the end.  This is where the creativity went, this is where his imagination ran wild, not in the body of the text but in the appendix.  I find that both strange and wonderful.  Strange because I would have loved to have read more about the evolution of this New Normal but wonderful because it’s just barely sketched out for us and each reader can imagine it for him or herself. 

In fact, Coupland seems to have been busy writing glossaries/guides lately: The Globe and Mail recently published his “A Radical Pessimist’s Guide to the Next 10 Years”, which is as fascinating, and plausible, as it is pessimistic. 

Many thanks to Trish at House of Anansi Press for sending me a copy of Player One to review after I’d expressed an interest in my Giller Prize Longlist post.  The time between when my post went up and when I got her email (less than 12 hours) was particularly impressive – if only I could be so prompt with my reviews!

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