"Ethan and his five co-workers are marooned in JPod, a no-escape architectural limbo on the fringes of a massive game-design company. There they wage battle against the demands of boneheaded marketing staff who torture them with idiotic changes to already idiotic games. Meanwhile, Ethan's personal life is being invaded by marijuana grow-ops, people-smuggling, ballroom dancing, global piracy and the rise of China. Everybody in both worlds seems to inhabit a moral grey zone, and nobody is exempt, not even his seemingly strait-laced parents or Coupland himself."
The last time I read a Douglas Coupland novel I came out of the experience pretty unsure of what I’d just read. I honestly couldn’t tell if I liked the book or not, for the most part though, I felt myself leaning towards the negative side. I found it an incredibly frustrating read and felt unsure if I would check out any of the author’s other work in the future.
Something drew me back though, I decided I’d give Coupland another go, picked up a copy of JPod and completely raced through it.
JPod is hilarious, it tells the story of a group of programmers working at a video game company, designing a skateboarding game. We join them as they come out of a meeting having just been told that, despite being over halfway through production, someone from marketing has decided that they need to program a child friendly cartoon turtle into the game.
It’s a really funny and interesting opening, but the plot escalates rapidly as the main character suddenly finds himself involved with a number of increasingly bizarre plot threads, from helping his Dad hide an affair to burying a biker his Mother has murdered to getting himself involved in a people smuggling operation run by a Chinese ballroom dancing enthusiast.
It’s absolutely ridiculous and not in the least bit believable but somehow, it just works. Coupland manages to work all these plot threads together, in a satisfying way and sets them against the scenes in JPod itself, which see the characters sitting at their desk, browsing the web and talking about the Simpsons, mingling the insane with the mundane into a mix that was just perfect for me.
I also loved the way the book was presented. Instead of individual chapters, the book is broke up into sections with each section being separated by several pages of nonsensical computer gibberish.
These segments ranged from spam emails to random bits of code, management jargon, business signage and even the odd reference to Tony Hawk’s pro-skater 3.
I’ve seen a few people complain that these sections are a waste of time and serve little purpose other than to pad the book out, but to me they worked really well. They made it feel as if the book itself was glitching as I read it which, to me at least, only served to ground the book ore into the tech/gaming industry.
A couple of the same criticisms I had with Girlfriend ina Coma are still here. The characters feel a little flat at times, too much like cartoons and the main character, despite the extreme situations he’s thrown into, never reacts in a realistic way. He just sort of shrugs his shoulders and gets on with his life rather than let anything affect him. Coupland seems obsessed with making every one of his characters overly cool, too cool to let anything bother them and, while I’m fine with that, it’d be nice to see that façade broken, even if only slightly, every now and then.
These criticisms are only minor though, I really enjoyed this book. The plot is huge and over the top but the sections in JPod help it from ever feeling too ridiculous. The dialogue in these sections is really funny and reminds me of the pointless conversations I have with my friends.
I’m excited to look into some more of Coupland’s novels in the future, hopefully my newfound enthusiasm will continue, but for now, I’d definitely recommend picking this one up.
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