Sunday, February 2, 2014
Microserfs, by Douglas Coupland - book review
A novel in journal form about a group of Microsoft employees who leave the company to found a Silicon valley startup.
Douglas Coupland is what I think of as a zeitgeist writer. He captures the spirit of the times we live in by setting his novels in those places that history will look back upon as trend-setting, avant-garde cultures. Silicon Valley in the 1990’s is a prime candidate, if not the clear winner. Though it hasn’t lost any of its luster, Silicon Valley doesn’t hold the same power over mediatic senses now as it did then, simply because it’s now been around for a while.
Reading about the 1990’s nerd culture is a nostalgic trip. If you were there at the time, and happened to find yourself in a field not too distant from technology and (here’s a 90’s term for you) multimedia, you find yourself nodding your head frequently while reading this, sometimes laughing out loud.
The characters are a hodge-podge of geekism from the era. There’s a bodybuilder geek (two of them, actually), a suave marketing geek, a recovering anorexic, an ageing previous-generation IBM software guy, a hermit-like visionary, a geek mother, a closeted gay geek, a Canadian rough-and-tumble geek, and of course the narrator, a run-of-the-mill generic geek whose importance in the story is to be relatable, therefore not too extremely geeky.
These characters find themselves living together in the Valley and forging their group into an extended family, discovering themselves and the world outside of Microsoft communally. The narrator is the quintessential flaneur in that he seems to be the kind of person who everybody confess themselves to, and as such becomes the eyes and ears of the reader as the author does a far-ranging show and tell of life in the 1990’s, tech and corporate culture, Seattle, San Fransisco and the Silicon Valley, Las Vegas, technology, relationships, mass media, gender, etc. It slides and hops from one thing to the next, through brief anecdotes and heavy interpretation from the narrator or another character delivering analysis in thoughtful a partes.
The result is a lightly-toned, yet intricately weaved, information-heavy traversal of an economically ebullient period of history. It’s about technology, but it’s mostly about people and how they relate to it, how they tie it in with their past and their sociological makeup. The characters come to life fast and believably, and their diversity makes their commonality even more appreciable.
Often touching, always (alarmingly) smart.
Oh and, without giving anything away, I add that the ending blew me away. Nerds are people, too.