The International Writers Magazine: Reviews
Generation A by Douglas Coupland
Sam North review
I was a big fan of Douglas Coupland, sticking with him to the brilliant millennium novel ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’. Somewhere around Miss Wyoming and All Families Are Psychotic my enthusiasm waned and he seemed to written nothing since except call centre novels. The trivia he had so successfully satirised in earlier work seemed to have overwhelmed him and he was exposed as just cold and cynical and although I bought J-Pod and The Gum Thief out of some kind of loyalty, I gave them away as unreadable.
But the reviews for Generation A have all been quite positive and there is talk of him recapturing his form. After all he named a whole generation X. Generation A had to be worth something, right?
Coupland is the master of insincere empty lives. He can recreate the soulless existence of a trivia and celebrity obsessed society in a sentence and some of Generation A really does reflect very badly on us, the human race and I am not surprised he has given us Solon (no los backwards) a drug so powerful you only need one hit and you are addicted. It makes you feel at peace with the world and makes you believe in nothing. No families, no gods, no nothing and everyone is taking it. Families are disintegrating world wide, everyone wants to be alone. Of course Coupland lives in Vancouver where they have been building this loner ‘lifestyle’ City of Glass paradise for the last twenty years and now there is hardly a square centimetre not covered by huge tower blocks of 'lifestyle' singles apartments where everyone can be equally alone and stare at all those others who are alone. Who needs Solon in Vancouver when they have already achieved isolation nirvana?
But this calm Solon world has been achieved at the cost of bees. Bees no longer exist. Wiped out worldwide as the Solon factories spew out their chemicals and kill them off. Without bees nothing pollinates. It’s more than honey that has disappeared, apples; fruit in general, most flowers. Bees are the trigger for life and we all know that once the bees go – humans can’t be far behind.
Five years after the bees all died five individuals get stung. It’s impossible, but nevertheless true. Zack, naked and web savvy is driving his combine harvester in a poisoned cornfield when he is stung. Julien has just been kicked off a twenty-four hour World of Warcraft binge when he was stung in a Paris park. Harj, in Sri Lanka was stung whilst on the phone to someone in New York who was interested in his website which offered celebrity apartment silence, whilst at his desk in an Abercrombie and Fitch call centre. Sam was making Earth sandwiches with someone on the other side of the globe when she was stung and took a photo with her phone to prove it. Diana, the tourettes afflicted dental hygienist was stung outside Mitch’s house as he was beating his dog in front of Eric the priest.
All five are captured, taken against their will to remote research stations and incarcerated in sterile no logo rooms and their blood is harvested and they are fed a strange jelly like food. Nothing is explained. But all five know their lives are changed forever. Their lives seem to be controlled by someone called Serge, a Frenchman and they are in communication with only a disembodied computer that has a neutral voice. They have to be totally unstimulated and for each of them it is a world of acute boredom. No one explains anything to them.
A month later all five are released to discover they are celebrities. Just five people stung in the whole world and still no one has found the beehives.
The question is why? Instinctively all five because curious about each other. There is no common link, except all five do not take Solon.
The story is told in jump cuts between each of the five characters as they incrementally experience the changes in their lives and we slowly begin to discover more about them and the huge experiment they are now part of.
In the second half of the novel they are captured by the scientist Serge and taken as a group to Haida Gwaii, a remote island off the western Canadian coast. It probably has the worst weather of anywhere on the Pacific coast and the beach is littered with plastic deleterious from Asia. Haida is populated by the native Canadian Haida tribe, in danger of being destroyed by Solon, smuggled in despite the best attempts of the Chiefs to keep it out. It is also the site of the last beehive in North America.
Serge makes them all live here and insists they tell stories. That’s it. Stories around the log fire. That’s all they have to do and he is vloggin it all for science. He doesn’t explain why.
The trouble is you have to be very patient now. You bought a novel that suddenly turns into micro fiction. Each tell a story in turn and they kind of merge as tensions rise on the island behind them. If you stick with it, you will be rewarded with an explanation. If you don’t well, I’m afraid no loss.
Unfortunately sometimes you feel you have overdosed on Solon yourself and this immediate future world, which doesn’t care whether it lives or dies, feels as if everyone is on Soma, I mean Solon. It never really feels well – real or logical. The ending kind of needs work. Perhaps Coupland couldn't concentrate, but he has set up a thriller from the beginning and it all kind of comes to a crashing halt.
Douglas Coupland is the master of capturing our trivial, superficial existence and he has a real knack of getting under our collective skin and it is good to find him back on form, but I really had to force myself to finish Generation A and read those short stories. I knew there would be a pay off, but I’m feeling slightly short changed.
The Apocalypse as anti-climax.
© Sam North – author of Another Place to Die