Player One: What is to Become of Us
- Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland has an uncanny ability to capture the zeitgeist. He did, after all, popularize the terms Generation X and McJob.
Increasingly, Coupland uses an ever-expanding toolkit, beyond the traditional novel form, to hold the mirror up to current culture. Over the years he has branched further into non-fiction, essays, screenplays, furniture design, and the visual arts. With Player One, Coupland returns to the novel form, but with a twist - it was originally presented as a novel in five parts for the 2010 CBC Massey Lectures.
Divided into five chapters (hours), Player One tells the story of a small group of people trapped inside an airport cocktail lounge during a global catastrophe. The narration shifts among the five main characters - Karen, who has just traveled across the country to meet her online date; Rick, the recovering alcoholic bartender who is ready to take an expensive leap of faith; Luke, a pastor who has just absconded with the parish coffers; Rachel, a disassociated beauty whose limbic system anomalies make her incapable of true human contact; and Player One, a disembodied voice who functions somewhat like a Greek chorus inside a video game. When global gas prices suddenly skyrocket to hundreds of dollars per barrel, the world explodes, and those trapped inside the cocktail lounge are forced to come to terms with the new world reality.
Coupland uses this clever premise to explore themes of time, identity, and the fragility of social structures. Player One, though, is so much more than just a clever premise; it's a compelling and highly readable story. Douglas Coupland has an unerring ability to synthesize postmodern reality, by taking people in instantly identifiable situations and digging into the mundane in a way that makes us really take note of that which we take for granted. With this slim novel, he once again succeeds mightily.
Coupland wraps up Player One on an interesting note, with a glossary of terms (entitled Future Legend) that we will need in order to take us through our new phase of post-human existence. Terms like "time snack" (often annoying moments of pseudo-leisure created by computers when they stop responding in order to save a file, to search for software updates or, most likely, for no apparent reason) and "ikeasis" (the desire in both daily and consumer life to cling to generically designed objects; this need for clear, unconfusing forms is a means of simplifying life amid an onslaught of information) made me nod in instant recognition. As I often do when I read a Douglas Coupland novel.